Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 18, 2013

Lights, camera . . . 'Linsanity'

Palo Alto's Jeremy Lin makes his debut at the Sundance Film Festival

by Keith Peters

Jeremy Lin will be on the big stage both Saturday and Monday as he and the Houston Rockets visit Minnesota and Charlotte, respectively, in National Basketball Association action.

On Sunday, however, the 24-year-old Lin will be on the big screen. The Palo Alto High grad has the lead role in "Linsanity", a documentary that will make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The 88-minute film is one of 29 documentaries scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Institute's signature festival, which opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 27. Other feature films include "jOBS", a bio-pic of the late Apple founder and Palo Alto resident Steve Jobs. Ashton Kutcher will play Jobs.

Lin, of course, will play himself in the film that details the Asian-American's sensational performance with the New York Knicks, in addition to his days of leading Paly to the 2006 CIF Division II state championship as well as his collegiate career at Harvard.

According to the Sundance Program, "Linsanity" is described thusly:

"In February 2012, an entire nation of basketball fans unexpectedly went "Linsane." Stuck in the mire of a disappointing season, the New York Knicks did what no other NBA team had thought about doing — they gave backup point guard Jeremy Lin an opportunity to prove himself. He took full advantage, scoring more points in his first five NBA starts than any other player in the modern era, and created a legitimate public frenzy in the process. Prior to this now-legendary run, Lin had faced adversity in his career at every turn. He wasn't offered a scholarship by any major university, nor was he drafted by any NBA team after a standout collegiate career at Harvard.

"Director Evan Jackson Leong embarked on this documentary before Jeremy Lin was a household name, following the future star as he struggled to find his place in a league where Asian American players are few and far between. More than just a film for basketball addicts, "Linsanity" serves as an insightful study of the way we perceive race in America and shows what is possible if someone believes in himself."

The documentary includes interviews with Lin's coach at Palo Alto, Peter Diepenbrock, and Pinewood girls' basketball coach Doc Scheppler, who worked with Lin on his shooting.

Diepenbrock said he was interview extensively nearly two years ago when the project was just beginning, but that he doesn't expect a lot of screen time.

"I think I might have a 10-second clip," he said. "I got edited out."

While he's not traveling to Park City for the premiere, Diepenbrock plans on seeing the film.

"It will be interesting to see," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. We'll see where it goes."

Scheppler, who was filmed in a shooting workout with Lin and later was interviewed, also will pass on the premiere. But, he too, is interested in seeing the movie.

"It IS a great story and I would pay to see it because it captures the essence of sports on so many levels," Scheppler said. "So many great lessons to learn from it. I'm grateful to help him and I'm excited about his growth as a player."

The film is by Evan Jackson Leong, who is a Sundance alum as co-producer of "Finishing The Game: The Search For A New Bruce Lee" in 2007. He is a sixth-generation Chinese American from San Francisco who also worked on the action movie, "The Fast and the Furious."

His producers include Christopher Chen, who previously produced sports-themed docs including "The Year Of The Yao" and "Fantasyland", as well as Rian Johnson's "Looper"; Brian Yang, who appeared as an actor in Sundance alum "Saving Face" (2005); and Allen Lu, who is part of Jeremy Lin's business development team. All four are Bay Area products.

The narrator for the film is Hollywood actor Daniel Dae Kim, currently starring in the TV series "Hawaii Five-0." He also starred in the TV series "Lost."

Leong's film has been in the works long before Lin achieved overnight fame. While the phenomenon is documented, the heart of the film is in Lin himself — his background, religious convictions, and early experiences that led up to his big break. It's expected that audiences will connect with his underdog story, the hurdles of racial stereotyping, and the racism he has faced on the court.

Wrote Leong on Kickstarter, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects:

"Lin's story is so improbable, Hollywood couldn't script this for the absurdity of being too unrealistic. Jeremy's career is the antithesis of NBA convention. He grew up as a skinny Asian-American kid in Palo Alto. The more we dug into his story, we saw how each seemingly unconventional turn became the foundation for the next opportunity — each success and challenge became a building block for bigger and better things, weaving together an impossible story that could only have ever happened that exact way.

"Jeremy is a private, simple, and humble person. We requested to film him repeatedly, but he felt there wasn't much of a story to tell. At the time, it seemed laughable to him that his story would be something people would want to hear. Fortunately, after much persistence, he graciously agreed to the cameras. Before Linsanity, we were documenting a struggling basketball player and the wild turn of events he was leading. After Linsanity hit, we capture a determined athlete whom fans want to know "What makes this man tick?

"Before the glossy magazine covers and marriage proposals from "Linsane" fans, Lin was a quiet NBA journeyman, so unknown to the public eye, the New York Knicks' security guards didn't recognize him well enough to let him into the arena. For months, in a grind that would wear anyone down, Jeremy struggled to hold onto a roster spot in the sport he grew up loving. Days from being cut by the third consecutive NBA team, no one could have ever predicted what was going to happen next. The unassuming Harvard alum would take us on one of the wildest rides in sports history as fans all around the world began to take notice.

"Thus, what began as a film project to document the life of an overlooked NBA walk-on became our all-access pass to one of the unlikeliest stories ever to be told."

"Linsanity" will screen five times at Sundance. After that, the film could be snapped up by a movie company or be relegated to the circuit of film festivals. Either way, Jeremy Lin has made the big stage and the big screen. It's the stuff of movies.

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