OGDEN — Seven hundred students and school staffers braved freezing rain Thursday for an exhilarating sample of the Sundance Film Festival.
The film was “Linsanity,” about NBA star Jeremy Lin, who has overcome every obstacle to succeed at the sport that is his passion.
“I play basketball, too, so I loved it,” said Abby Barbadilo, 13 and a student at DaVinci Academy in Ogden. “It didn’t matter what his race was. It was really inspiring. It talked about more things than basketball, too, like about life.”
Suzanne Thompson, a counselor at Two Rivers High School, also in Ogden, said each year’s Sundance selection for high school screenings seems to inspire her students.
“Two years ago, it was about a cowboy named Buck,” Thompson said. “We are an alternative school, and I wasn’t sure how the kids were going to connect. But Buck was abused as a child, and he overcame it. My students were able to connect.”
Thompson said one student had moved from her home into foster care after her mother refused to leave the girl’s abusive stepfather. Foster care had not been easy, but the student was preparing to graduate on time and enter the adult world.
“The movie was about choosing the way you react to your circumstances,” Thompson said. “I bought her a book the filmmaker was selling. It had a powerful effect on that student. The film helped her think about leaving baggage behind and starting strong.”
“Linsanity,” by director Evan Jackson Leong, told the story of Lin’s road to recognition for his hard-earned basketball skills. Lin and his family always suspected that coaches weren’t interested in Lin because he did not fit the mold of a basketball star, being only 6-foot-3-inch tall and of Chinese descent. Playing ball at Harvard, Lin was surprised when ticket-holders openly shouted racist remarks at him. After a bumpy NBA start filled with rejections, Lin’s skills began to be recognized, and media outlets ran stereotypical graphics of him popping out of a fortune cookie and holding a calculator to improve points scored for his team, the Houston Rockets. Lin taught himself to mentally turn negative comments into positive motivation.
“I learned a lot from Jeremy about persistence and faith,” Leong said, adding that Lin would climb a mountain, get to the top, get knocked down, then climb a bigger mountain.
Leong said if he had been an Asian American and seen a documentary about such a sports hero, he might have been inspired to pursue sports.
“This is a legacy film,” Leong said. “Our goal was to get a little taste of that moment and live it again.”
Yici Zhou, 17 and a Chinese exchange student attending DaVinci Academy, said Lin is a hero in her native land.
“It really touched me, the hard work he did over a long time,” Yici said. “People think Asians look differently and can’t be good at basketball.”
The director addressed a wide variety of questions from students, from how long the film took to make (three years) to whether he had ever met Jackie Chan (no).
DaVinci Academy Principal Fred Donaldson said the annual Sundance Film Festival screening is a perfect fit for his students.
“We are a hands-on arts and science school,” he said. “By coming to films like this and talking to the filmmakers, students can learn about creativity, entrepreneurship and problem solving. Creativity and problem solving are what we teach.”
Among the other schools with students attending were Box Elder, Ben Lomond, Roy, Ogden, Fremont and Washington high schools, along with Highland Junior High and a student group from Weber State University.
Dale Pollard, a marketing teacher at Fremont High, said he thought “Linsanity” would inspire his students.
“Hopefully they will see opportunities to take some things they are passionate about and build their own projects into something they can get recognition for,” he said.
Fred Smith, video production teacher at Fremont High, said his students leave the Sundance high school screening inspired each year.
“They study the camera angles and the cinematic techniques, and some years they get a chance to talk to the directors,” Smith said. “They always leave excited to start directing and producing new projects. Not everybody gets a chance to see a Sundance film. People come from different states and around the world to see these films, and we have Sundance here on our doorstep.”