SBJ/February 4-10, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Sundance: Crossover appeal

Documentaries about two athletes bring insight to universal themes

At the Sundance Film Festival, crisp corporate representation meets humble, independent spirit. The ambassadors of this event are the filmmakers, representing a spectrum of experience from seasoned veterans to rookies. And like an all-star game, when they convene here, there is a great, intangible magic in their ability to tell vivid stories through their films.
      The power of storytelling is tremendous in this mountain environment, and this festival of film brings more than 60,000 fans and industry folks to Park City, Utah, to experience it — together — for 10 days.
      “Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire and, ultimately, connect us,” goes the quotation from Robert Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, which puts on the festival.
      All film genres are invited to submit their works for the selection process. Among the 119 films at this year’s festival, Jan. 17-27, the two sports documentaries are solid standouts.


LINSANITY

“Linsanity” didn’t know it had a star when filming began.

Photo: MICHAEL BOW / COURTESY OF SUNDANCE INSTITUTE
The movie follows Jeremy Lin’s sudden rise to superstardom in the NBA, and the “Linsanity” phase, in which Lin filled “SportsCenter” segments and Sports Illustrated covers after becoming the New York Knicks’ point guard last season, provides the unlikely ending to director Evan Jackson Leong’s three-year documentation process.

When Leong introduced the world premiere during the opening weekend of Sundance, he noted that Lin was playing in the D-League a year ago. Now Lin, who has since moved from the Knicks to the Houston Rockets, is beloved on the court and in his various communities, from family and friends to his fans who follow him via social media. His newfound stardom is fueled by his family and strong-willed upbringing, which keeps him moving forward, as well as by his treasured “Lion King” blanket.

A powerful quote from Lin opens the film: “I know God orchestrated this whole thing. The way it happened is miraculous.” And throughout the film you learn the devout practices of Lin and how religion shapes his life, along with the Asian-American community, music lessons and basketball.

His close family plays a huge role in how he developed his teamwork skills. After school each day, Jeremy and his two brothers would help one another finish their homework so they could all play basketball together outside in Palo Alto, Calif. Working hard is a family trait that is now refreshed every summer when they travel to Taiwan, birthplace of their parents, to see relatives but also to experience a culture that is appreciative of what they have, and proud.

From left: producer Allen Lu, director Evan Jackson Leong and producers Christopher Chen and Brian Yang.
Photo: MOLLY MAZZOLINI / COURTESY OF INFINITE SCALE
Lin attributes experiences like these to a successful “personal progression plan,” an outline of his career goals, since his progress from Palo Alto High School to Harvard University to the NBA is the perfect representation of his tenacious fight to get on a team.

Lin will have some ribbing from friends and teammates about his “Lion King” blanket and his $10 zen-like water fountain. Both play a role in endearing scenes captured by Leong.

“This is a documentarian’s dream,” Leong said. “I have done a couple of documentaries, and things like this don’t happen, moments like these don’t happen. Stories like this don’t happen. You can’t script something like this.”

The film had not been picked up for distribution as of the end of the festival, but it is continuing to raise funds via Kickstarter.

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THE CRASH REEL

For director Lucy Walker, “The Crash Reel” is rooted in a previous trip to the festival, for the premiere of her documentary “Wasteland” in 2010. It was then that she saw the communitywide support for champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who a few weeks earlier had suffered a traumatic brain injury after crashing on the halfpipe at nearby Park City Mountain Resort while in training for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

Photo: ADAM MORAN / COURTESY OF SUNDANCE INSTITUTE
Walker’s interest in learning about the story behind the “I Ride for Kevin” stickers and T-shirts that she saw was the first step toward connecting with Pearce and his close-knit family, and eventually making Pearce her next subject.

“This is a really emotional, compelling narrative journey that you take with Kevin, his family, his friends and the whole snowboarding and skiing world,” Walker said on the red carpet. “We set out to tell this incredible story to involve the audience and to make the audience really experience what life is like to be in the shoes of a top action sports star.”

Walker and her team reviewed more than 200 film sources to marry the best footage to tell Pearce’s story. The documentary follows Pearce from infancy to his professional career and through his recovery, which continues today.

Director Lucy Walker and friends from the Frends snowboarding crew support Kevin Pearce on the red carpet.
Photo: MOLLY MAZZOLINI / COURTESY OF INFINITE SCALE
The film opens with Pearce, at the top of his sport, snowboarding with his Frends crew. For the premiere, they flew in from their X Games Aspen training to support Pearce, along with his entire family and even some of his doctors. With so many of Pearce’s family and supporters on hand, a strong emotional current ran through the theater.

Amazing footage shows the energy spent on landing insanely difficult tricks. This energy dramatically shifts into saving Pearce’s life, starting with a helicopter ride to the hospital.

A sweet, scene-stealer is Kevin’s older brother, David, who has Down syndrome, and valiantly shows love for his brother but no love for Kevin’s desire to get back on the snowboard.

Whether or not you are a winter sports fan, watch HBO this summer to catch the television premiere of this fantastic documentary.

Molly Mazzolini has been attending Sundance Film Festivals since she moved to Salt Lake City in 1998. She is a partner at Infinite Scale, official provider of the look of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

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