‘Upon the Sea’ brings international student experience to surreal film landscape


Photo Courtesy of Rosalie Liu

Rosalie Liu looking out a window. Liu is directing “Upon the Sea”, which will enter production in Spring Quarter.

Mary Randolph, Reporter

When Communication senior Rosalie Liu’s grandmother died in 2020, Liu said she channeled her emotions into art. 

Liu’s work culminated in her short film “Upon the Sea.” After two years of writing, grant proposals, casting and planning, the film will enter production Spring Quarter — and Liu is the director.

“The goal was just to create something where I felt powerful enough to record my artistic voice, and that’s my tribute to my granny,” Liu said.

The film follows an East Asian girl working as a Mandarin-to-English translator in the United States while dealing with the loss of her grandmother. As a translator, the protagonist struggles to find her own authentic voice. She also tries to cope with the fact that she missed hearing her grandmother’s last words. 

Liu said she shows this grieving process and identity crisis through a mixture of realistic and surreal scenes, including one underwater between the film’s three characters — the protagonist, a younger version of the protagonist and the protagonist’s grandmother.

Though Liu had originally planned to shoot the film last November, she said complications with funding pushed production back to this spring. “Upon the Sea” has since received a Media Arts Grant from the School of Communication — which provides funding to student short films — and $2000 from a private donor. 

Producer and Communication sophomore Sally Sheng worked with Liu last fall to build the cast and crew and help with administrative tasks. Though the pre-production process has been long, Sheng said she has loved being a part of the process.

“Being an RTVF student, it’s good to be involved in producing a film because you’re creating art,” Sheng said. “You feel so invested in the achievement of it.”

Sheng said the film resonated with her when she first read the script, as the film is shot from an Asian female’s point of view. 

She hopes the audience can empathize with the characters and story.

“We want other people, the general public, to see the things that happen from our perspective,” Sheng said.

As an international student, Liu said the experience of being unable to go home and be with loved ones is “universal.” She said she is especially excited to see one of the final scenes, in which the protagonist’s younger self and her grandmother sit together on a beach.

“Her granny started singing this little song that (the protagonist heard) in her dreams, and it was just a very warm moment,” Liu said. “It’s very vivid in my mind.”

Weinberg sophomore Kaitlin Sun, who plays the film’s protagonist, said this is the first film she’s ever acted in. 

Sun said finding ways to empathize with her character helped her find her voice.

“There are parts where I have a similar experience — not completely the same, but definitely similar emotions and moments I can resonate with,” Sun said. “It made it feel more personal to be able to put parts of myself into this character.”

Liu said “Upon the Sea” will continue to fundraise and begin production in the first or second week of May. 

She hopes to enter the film into festivals and reach a broader audience this summer  post-production.

“I really want more people to hear this story,” Liu said.

Email: [email protected] 

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