The last Debbie Lum documentary I saw was back in 2013 at CAAMFest, ‘Single Asian Female,’ exploring the desirability of Single Asian Females (SAFs), in particular by non-Asian men and following a San Francisco Bay Area white man, Steven, who winds up going to China to find a wife. I enjoyed the documentary despite finding the Steven a bit odd to say the least … Well, now Lum’s new documentary ‘Try Harder’, a look at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, is making its theatrical release after making it through the film festival circuit, where it won the following honors:
- WINNER – 2021 Doc Edge Film Festival
- Official Selection – 2021 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
- Official Selection – 2021 AFI DOCS
- Opening Night – 2021 CAAMFest
- Official Selection – 2021 DOC NYC
The film summary:
“San Francisco’s Lowell High, one of the best public schools in the country, draws high achievers–nearly 70% Asian Americans–from across the city into a fiercely competitive universe. The camera follows seniors through the hallways and into classrooms as the pressure intensifies to impress admissions officers at elite universities with their report cards, test scores, and overall awesomeness. The students proudly own their identity as nerds and tell their stories with candor and humor despite the stress. Will they achieve their dreams? What happens if they fail?”
I saw the documentary at an early virtual screening event and enjoyed it – not a surprise given that it is 96% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (with 28 reviews as of this writing).
Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999, I know several friends who went to Lowell High School over the years, so it was interesting to learn more about the increasingly competitive nature of the school and the college application process.
I remember applying to top colleges in the late 1980s and it was competitive, but not competitive like it is today. For the most recent admissions data – for the Class of 2025, it’s kind of insane:
Here are some more specific numbers for the Ivy League:
Since most if not all the Lowell High School students would be considered California in-state residents, the University of California system is increasingly is very competitive to get into – especially for UC Berkeley or UCLA:So if you want to get a sense of what it is like high school stress of applying to college at a predeominately Asian American high school, you should check out ‘Try Harder.’
You can find screenings and tickets from the ‘Try Harder’ website here. There is also a free ticket giveaway (in the San Francisco Bay Area) that you can apply for.