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"Try Harder!" premieres on WSIU May 2, 2022

Try Harder Publicity Stills
Lou Nakasako
Lou Nakasako
Jonathan Chu at Graduation.

Try Harder!: Film Screening & Discussion

Join WSIU and The Carbondale Public Library for a free film screening and discussion about the film Try Harder! The film premiers on WSIU on May 2nd, 2022 at 2:30 p.m. The conversation will be on topics related to the film, so watching the film in advance of the conversation is not necessary.

About The Film

At Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, college admission is at its most competitive within its high achieving, city-wide student body—nearly 70 percent Asian American— as they work tirelessly to get into their dream schools. With humor and heart, “Try Harder!” from acclaimed filmmaker Debbie Lum, pulls back the curtain on the reality of the college application process and the intersection of class, race, and opportunity through the eyes of high school seniors applying to America’s top schools.

Stream Online at pbs.org: May 3rd – June 3rd, 2022

Independent Lens TV Broadcast: May 2, 2022 at 9 p.m.

Inside the hallways and classrooms of Lowell High, Lum follows seniors as the pressure intensifies to impress admissions officers at prestigious universities, like Stanford and Harvard, with every aspect of their application—from their SAT scores and GPAs to their extracurricular activities and even down to their racial identities. Starting from the moment students apply to college to the moment they receive the news if they got in, Lum captures a year in the life of these high schoolers, one considered the most pivotal in determining their futures.

The film encompasses perspectives of students from all walks of life at Lowell: an outgoing aspiring surgeon and son of Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants who spends his time dancing between classes; the daughter of Chinese immigrants who’s both captain of the tennis team and editor of the school newspaper; and an aspiring writer who, as a biracial African American at Lowell, is in the minority. The students proudly own their identities as “nerds” and tell their stories with candor and humor, despite the weighty and immense stress of the admissions process.

About The Filmmaker

Debbie Lum (producer/director) explored cultural stereotypes in My Tiger Mom and Seeking Asian Female. She made two short docs for Wayne Wang about his films Chan Is Missing and Dim Sum, co-produced and edited Kelly Loves Tony (PBS’s POV), and edited To You Sweetheart, Aloha and the Emmy-winning a.k.a. Don Bonus (POV). Lum wrote and directed fictional films Chinese Beauty, A Great Deal! and One April Morning.


Additional Resources

Download the Discussion Guide:

Download the Student Workbook:

Resources related to this film are locatedhere.


Indie Lens Pop-Up is a WSIU media project that brings people together for film screenings and community-driven conversations. Indie Lens Pop-Up features documentaries from the PBS hit series Independent Lens, draws local residents together to discuss newsworthy topics. These in-person and virtual events are free and open to the public.

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