On the Beat

Filmmaker Justin Lin at Sundance

In a sense, Lin is already a product of Sundance, having come of age in the era of American independent cinema. He knows the indie-film drill; he has learned how to score free equipment, find investors, build a crew. (In 1997, Lin co-directed the feature Shopping for Fangs.) He knows that the festival is there to offer opportunities and that, Cinderella stories aside, it's up to him to make the most of them. Through it all, he remains startlingly laid-back, ticking off the entries on his packed agenda with a businesslike lack of agitation. (By the time he returns to LA, he will have sat—or stood—for some 20 interviews.) He laughs and starts in surprise at the barrage of flashbulbs during a photo shoot for Premiere magazine, then sits back while the cast hams it up, jumping and mugging for the camera. He looks every bit the director, studying the scene intently with a small smile. Lin's laugh is easy and he is unfailingly sweet, but he has an underlying air of confidence, seriousness and hard work. He knows what he's doing and what he wants.

"I've been around long enough," he says, "to know nothing's for sure until you have the film in the can. Worst-case scenario: it's gonna be an amazing trip; we're gonna learn."

As it turns out, Lin will indeed have had an amazing trip. A few days after the premiere of Better Luck Tomorrow, at another screening, a journalist, disturbed by the ending, declares the film "empty, amoral for Asian-Americans and Americans." At which point the session devolves into a shouting match about, among other things, Newt Gingrich and the corruption of the American male. If this isn't quite the discourse Lin had hoped his film would inspire, he is nonetheless jazzed by the reaction. He tries to silence the shouters so the journalist can finish his question but to no avail. The stage manager tries to clear the room for the next screening, but the yelling continues until none other than Roger Ebert puffs up to offer his own last word, defending the filmmakers' choices and accusing the journalist of condescension.

The day after, Lin's placid faÁade has cracked. He's laughing and excited, and it seems as if the reality of the screenings, the meetings, the controversy and the buzz has, at last, truly hit. "Yeah, I'm pumped," he says, as if he were just realizing it. "I had dry eyes or, seriously, I would have been crying."

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