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FilmmakersFilmmakers 2024

The Filmmaker Four: Jennifer Lin

By April 26, 2024No Comments

Jennifer Lin is an author, filmmaker and journalist, whose 31 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer included postings as a correspondent in Beijing, New York and Washington, D.C. Her first feature documentary, Beethoven in Beijing, featured the Philadelphia Orchestra’s China legacy and aired nationally in 2021 on PBS’s Great Performances. The film received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a finalist for the Library of Congress/Lavine Ken Burns Prize for historical documentaries. Ten Times Better, her second documentary, grew out of her research for another project, Beyond Yellowface, about a pair of New York dancers of Asian descent who are challenging the elite ranks of ballet to deal with issues of race.

What it the title of your film in BIFF 2024?
Ten Times Better

What was your first experience with film and how did it influence your first project?
I was a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer for most of my career. In 2008, I was asked by the paper to cover the Philadelphia Orchestra’s China tour, which was a special trip because it would commemorate the 35th anniversary of the orchestra’s historic 1973 tour as the first American orchestra in China. I had worked and lived in China as a correspondent in the late 1990s, but knew very little about the orchestra’s extraordinary China connection. Covering their concert in Beijing in 2008, I was struck by the degree of nostalgia that Chinese concertgoers had for this orchestra. It occurred to me that while many people know about “ping pong diplomacy” between the US and China, few understood the impact of “music diplomacy.” When I left the paper in 2015, I returned to this idea and felt that this was an important chapter in US-China relations and a story that should be seen and heard. I pitched the Philadelphia Orchestra on the idea of doing a documentary and they agreed. I teamed with a more experienced producer and a co-director. I’m proud that Beethoven in Beijing aired nationally on the marquee PBS show, Great Performances.

Who is (are) your favorite filmmakers?
I’ll watch anything by the documentarian Nanfu Wang. Her work in China is truly amazing.
I’m also a big fan of Ben Proudfoot, who’s elevated the short documentary genre to new heights.

What are you working on that no one knows about?
A documentary about Jean Toomer.

He’s heralded as one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance, touted by some academics as one of America’s truly great writers.

Yet, few people know him. Toomer lived most of his life in my hometown of Doylestown in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia. Toomer wrote only one book, Cane, a short collection of poems and short stories. He was mixed race and 100 years ago, wrote an essay on racial identity that is as relevant today as it was then.

What will make this story come alive is his grandson and granddaughter grew up without knowing the legacy of their famous grandfather, who died before they were born, or the fact that they had Black ancestors, including descendants of slaves.

Who would play you in a movie? What’s your go to movie snack? What’s the film title that best describes your life?
The late Irene Cara.
Popcorn with lots of butter.
Broadcast News.