The aptly named “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” sports a subject charismatic enough to override the somewhat unimaginative, technically routine treatment of her here. Pic’s feature docu Oscar nomination could help win limited theatrical play, but its natural environs are broadcast and educational outlets.
Lin was a mere 20 years old in 1980 when the contest was opened to design a Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her sunken black wall of the chronologically and alphabetically ordered names of U.S. casualties was drawn up as an undergrad assignment at Yale, then submitted almost as an afterthought.
The jury recognized a work of rare inspiration; but some veterans and conservative politicos angrily interpreted this “scar the color of shame, hidden in a hole” as a final insult. (It would have been interesting to hear these critics today, as the memorial has survived all initial controversy to achieve near-universal respect.)
We see Lin giddy and impossibly young at her first press conference. Soon afterward, however, hard knocks in the public sphere had sculpted a spokeswoman articulate and poised beyond her years.
Pic goes on to detail Lin’s subsequent creation of less famous but equally meaningful monuments to peace and civil rights movements, along with designing an ethnic art museum, a topiary landscape and one private home. She’s also developed an interest in sculpture.
Director Freida Lee Mock unwisely neglects Lin’s personal background until more than halfway through the pic, then hurriedly notes her upbringing amid Chinese-born professorial parents in a Midwestern college town.
Lin appears gracious and frank, yet remains more enigmatic than necessary. Some info on her personal life and extracurricular interests could have been included without compromising professional focus.
Docu works best in conveying profound impact Lin’s works have on viewers, even if mediocre lensing doesn’t get close enough to approximating that experience. Banal score adds to TV feel. While a pretty ordinary effort given its visionary subject, feature’s mix of biography, interviews and artist-at-work elements is crafted competently enough to provide an inspiring portrait.