2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: TRY HARDER!

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lou Nakasako


TRY HARDER!
Debbie Lum follows the graduating class of a competitive San Francisco High School through its college application process.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

At Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. They scrutinize how every element of their application, from their classes to their extracurricular activities to their racial identities, might be read by admission officers. At Lowell—where cool kids are nerds, nearly everyone has an amazing talent, and the majority of the student body is Asian American—the things that usually make a person stand out can feel not good enough, even commonplace.

With humor and heart, director Debbie Lum takes us to the reality of the American college application process and the intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity as experienced by high school seniors living through it. TRY HARDER! is a portrait of young adults in the most diverse American generation ever as they navigate a quintessential rite of passage and make it their own.

Some Background:

Director/Producer:
Debbie Lum
First Sundance credit. This is Lum’s sophomore feature doc, following SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE (SXSW).

Producers:
Lou Nakasako
First Sundance credit. Nakasako makes his feature producing debut with this project, for which he also served as a cinematographer.

Nico Opper
First Sundance credit. Opper is a filmmaker and an assistant professor in the film program at Santa Clara University. Their past work as director/producer includes VISITOR’S DAY (AFI Docs, DOC NYC) and OFF AND RUNNING (Tribeca).

Executive Producers:
Jean Tsien
Recent past Sundance docs:
THE OSLO DIARIES (2018)
PLASTIC CHINA (2017)
HOOLIGAN SPARROW. (2016)

Tsien is a veteran documentary editor, producer, and consultant. She most recently produced 76 DAYS (Toronto, DOC NYC). Tsien is a past recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Art of Editing Mentorship Award, and was recognized with a lifetime achievement award at DOC NYC’s 2020 Visionaries Tribute.

Lois Vossen
Recent past Sundance docs:
ALWAYS IN SEASON (2019)
BEDLAM (2019)
ONE CHILD NATION (2019)
THE FORCE (2017)

Executive Producer, ITVS. Vossen also executive produced fellow 2021 Premieres series PHILLY DA. She has received multiple Emmys for the ITVS-produced PBS series Independent Lens.

Sally Jo Fifer
Recent past Sundance docs:
WORDS FROM A BEAR (2019)
ALWAYS IN SEASON
BEDLAM
ONE CHILD NATION
MINDING THE GAP (2018)
THE FORCE
MOTHERLAND (2017)
QUEST (2017)

President/CEO, ITVS. Fifer is also executive producer of PHILLY DA and of fellow 2021 US Documentary Competition title AILEY. She has received multiple Emmys for the ITVS-produced PBS series Independent Lens.

Tony Hsieh
Co-founder, Zappos. Hsieh also has executive producer credits on fellow 2021 US Documentary Competition titles AILEY, AT THE READY, HOMEROOM, REBEL HEARTS, and USERS, as well as Premieres title BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE. The Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, who passed away in late November, was a backer of Bryn Mooser’s XTR.

Roberto Grande
Grande also executive produced AILEY, AT THE READY, HOMEROOM, REBEL HEARTS, and USERS. The investor and entrepreneur managed Tony Hsieh’s partnership with XTR.

Mimi Pham
Pham also executive produced AILEY, AT THE READY, HOMEROOM, REBEL HEARTS, and USERS.

Bryn Mooser
Past Sundance docs:
BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS (2020)
FEELS GOOD MAN (2020)
THE FIGHT (2020)
MUCHO MUCHO AMOR (2020)
US KIDS (2020)
THE BRINK (2019)
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MY MOTHER (2019)
ON HER SHOULDERS (2018)

Founder/CEO, XTR. Mooser also executive produced AILEY, AT THE READY, REBEL HEARTS, USERS, BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE, and the 2021 Next fiction title THE BLAZING WORLD, as well as co-executive produced HOMEROOM. The Oscar nominee and Emmy winner previously co-founded RYOT.

Kathryn Everett
Past Sundance docs:
BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS
FEELS GOOD MAN
THE FIGHT
MUCHO MUCHO AMOR

Head of film, XTR. Everett is also an executive producer of AILEY, AT THE READY, REBEL HEARTS, USERS, BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE, and co-executive producer of HOMEROOM.

Naja Pham Lockwood
Founder/CEO, RYSE Media. Pham Lockwood is a patron of the arts and an investor. She serves on the board of CAAM (Center for Asian American Media) and on the advisory board of the Utah Film Commission, and was a past member of the Sundance Institute’s Utah Advisory Board. Pham Lockwood previously executive produced Sundance fiction feature alum GOOK.

Geralyn White Dreyfous
Recent past Sundance docs:

AGGIE (2020)
ASSASSINS (2020)
GIVING VOICE (2020)
ON THE RECORD (2020)
SPACESHIP EARTH (2020)
THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS (2020)
US KIDS
ALWAYS IN SEASON
THE GREAT HACK (2019)
SHOOTING THE MAFIA (2019)
306 HOLLYWOOD (2018)
GENERATION WEALTH (2018)
BISBEE ’17 (2018)
OF FATHERS AND SONS (2018)
OUR NEW PRESIDENT (2018)
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018)

Co-founder, Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films. Dreyfous is an Oscar and Emmy winner who has also produced several Sundance fiction and VR alumni projects and has served as a creative advisor for Sundance’s Catalyst Forum. She also executive produced this year’s BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE.

Co-Producer:
Amy Ferraris
First Sundance credit. Ferraris is a documentary editor, a role she also serves on this project. She previously edited SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE.

More Info:
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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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