This past Thursday, I had the honor and pleasure attending the premiere of LINSANITY, the documentary film, about Jeremy Lin that helped kickoff CAAMFest – the Center for Asian American Media Festival (“Film. Music. Food.”), formerly known as the San Francisco International Film Festival. Afterwards, I attended the Opening Night Gala held at the Asian Art Museum.
When I arrived at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco around 6:15 PM, there was already a long line for guests as well as the “red carpet” had celebrities being interviewed and photographed, including the director Evan Jackson Leong and the rest of the LINSANITY producers and staff, as well as other such as Jeremy Lin’s high school basketball teammates who were still in the area, as well as Jeremy Lin’s parents (who I later saw were quietly and unassumingly sitting two rows ahead of me).
Before LINSANITY was shown, there were many opening remarks, including:
Then LINSANITY, the documentary film, started – lasting 88 minutes (no doubt 88 for luck!).
To be honest, it was hard for me not to like the movie. I’ve known the Jeremy Lin story since at least when Lin was a senior at Harvard and I saw him play against local Santa Clara University men’s basketball team back in January 2010, and have followed and read and blogged abot his background extensively and have seen him play as recently as February and March of this year. As I’ve commented often to others, when the next seminal book on Asian American history is written, there will be a whole chapter devoted to Jeremy Lin and his impact on the image of Asian Americans, especially men, to the general American population.
Well, I have to agree with the overall positive press that LINSANITY had garnered at Sundance, as well as since that world premiere, this review provides a nice high level overview:
“With a mix of personal interviews — including extensive on-camera discussions with Lin, combined with more informal scenes – home-video footage from Lin’s childhood and clips from his high school and college careers, as well as game-play commentary from ESPN and other broadcasters, Leong has assembled a film that’s not just a stirring sports drama but also a classic immigrant-family success story, presented in an entirely new context.”
The documentary highlights Lin’s struggles each step of the way, from his early beginnings to where he is today with the Houston Rockets. With his faith in God, support from family, friends and coaches, a LOT of hard work and dedication, many up’s and down’s, and lucky breaks, Lin overcomes a lot of self-doubt and self and outside pressure and is able to overcome all these obstacles to pursue his dreams of playing in the NBA.
Post-LINSANITY screening at the historic and beautiful Castro Theater in San Francisco.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the footage of the games highlighting the rise and explosion of “LINSANITY” when Jeremy Lin initially became a starter for the New York Knicks – since I had watched many of those games live, what I really enjoyed was seeing some of his early years. From a lot of home movie footage, we see a really young kid not only playing basketball, but also growing up like a typical American kid.
The documentary also highlighted at time Lin’s loving father and mother (as well as his older and younger brother), where his father’s passion for the game help inspire and drive Jeremy and his brothers to play the game themselves. Lin, like any good Asian kid, also was learning how to play the piano – and the documentary – with Lin’s approval no doubt – showed him playing somewhat poorly, two different recitals, a year apart, playing the same song, with deference and politeness to the audience. But his mother was resigned to the fact that Lin’s true passion was basketball, and let him play.
The footage of Lin playing in local youth leagues, in high school – especially Lin’s senior year state division championship was fantastic as well as some footage at Harvard (especially the game where Harvard almost defeated highly ranked UCONN). There are a few funny moments where Lin discusses some of his challenges at Harvard. The documentary sometimes weaves from his youth to the recent past and present and we get a glimpse of a young adult (he’s now around 24) who is still a kid at heart, down-to-earth, funny and like most people we know at that age.
Director Evan Jackson Leong answering a question from the audience.
Lin faced an amazing number of obstacles throughout his pursuit for the love of basketball, in high school to trying to get to play in college, where schools like Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley passed on him to start and heading to Harvard. It was at Harvard while he was breaking Harvard and Ivy League records that a coach thought that he thought Lin had what it took to be an NBA player.
Before LINSANITY became a household word, Lin had huge hurdles to overcome. After the NBA draft was over and he was not selected, he was able to play in a summer league where he outshined #1 draft pick John Wall. After being signed to his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, Lin struggles to get any playing time and when he played, had mixed results and is sent back-and-forth to the team’s D-(development) league. I was lucky enough to see Lin play his first NBA regular season game, but in retrospect, he still had a HUGE hill to climb before he would feel secure as playing regularly for the NBA.
First floor main atrium of the Asian Art Museum
After his first season with the Knicks, we see Lin visit Taiwan with his family. As a Taiwanese American, I really enjoyed this part – seeing him visit his relatives and connect with others. Him singing awful karaoke with his family, doing shrimp fishing (which I’ve never done), and being involved in the local Taiwanese basketball scene – where he was considered a superstar (and that was before LINSANITY irrupted.)
After Lin’s return, the NBA had a lockout and players strike and the regular season looked possibly in jeopardy. During that time, Lin trained hard and worked a lot on his game. After the lockout and before the compressed season began, Lin is dropped and picked up by the Houston Rockets, then after something like 10 days and cut on Christmas. Then the New York Knicks pick him up. The Knicks quickly move Lin to the Knick’s D-league for a game, then back to the Knicks. Then we see LINSANITY begin to emerge.
The main stairway at the Asian Art Museum where the Opening Night Gala was hosted.
As we see LINSANITY unfolding, we also start to racial slurs and biases crop up. Angry Asian Man’s Phil Yu made some cameos in the documentary, highlighting some of the racial slurs that Lin experienced in college and that began to unfold during LINSANITY, including the infamous ESPN reporter’s chink the armor comment, a local news broadcast making fun on Lin’s eyes and a very brief Saturday Night Live clip of a skit that highlighted the double standard of racial intolerance towards Asian Americans that would not be accepted for African Americans.
After viewing the documentary, if you’re not amazed, inspired and delighted about Lin’s story, you have no heart. I can’t say LINSANITY is the most insightful, eye opening or life changing documentary you’ll ever see, but even if you’re not a sports fan, there is a lot to like about the film itself and certainly Lin’s story.
Second Floor of the Asian Art Museum – main atrium.
From a production standpoint, I can’t say that it is as “smooth and polished” as the last documentary I last saw about an NBA player, and that was Year of the Yao, about Yao Ming coming to America and his first year in the NBA. And that I think was an NBA-backed project. However, LINSANITY is immensely more relatable (and more enjoyable) to almost everyone who has had to deal with challenges, pressure and self-doubt – everybody.
Considering this was an independent film, what Evan Jackson Leong has been able to put together is terrific. Though one does wonder, if LINSANITY did not happen, and Lin had simple remained an anonymous NBA basketball player, where the arc of this documentary would have gone. No doubt keen observers and bloggers like myself and basketball fans would have enjoyed the documentary, but the film itself would have had a much more limited appeal (as well as awareness). The documentary would have been more focused I think Lin’s early years at the high school and college level, and perhaps more footage from the filmmakers themselves as Lin began his career and struggle within the NBA.
After the documentary was over, the director Evan Jackson Leong and the producers continued to thank all the attendees, including Jeremy Lin’s parents, who were sitting about two rows in front of me. Then the Leong introduced a brief video pre-recorded by Jeremy Lin since he was unable to make the screening due to his travel schedule with the Houston Rockets.
Christine Kwon, CAAM Festival Managing Director, lead the initial Q&A with director Evan Jackson Leong and the producers of LINSANITY, which went somewhat similar to the Q&A at Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW) – except unfortunately no Jeremy Lin (ironic considering he is from the San Francisco Bay Area – but he’s a busy NBA player!) But it was nice to hear some of the questions and answers live directly from the director and his producers.
Afterwards, I made my way to the Opening Night Gala at the Asian Art Museum, where the post-premiere screening celebration has been held since as long as I remember – though I haven’t attended the event in ages. There was food, music and drinks as well as access to the limited time showcase of a special exhibit, Xian’s world famous Terracotta Warriors, on display until May 27th.