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Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision

Not rated, 96 min. Directed by Freida Lee Mock. Starring Maya Lin.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., March 22, 1996

I first encountered architect/sculptor Maya Lin a number of years ago in a print ad for The Gap. A series of black-and-white photographs featuring famous people in Gap clothing, this particular ad struck me because of its inclusion of Lin, best known for her design of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, amongst actors, musicians, and sports figures. However, after watching Freida Lee Mock's documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, I realize that Lin's place among the other Gap celebrity models was more than appropriate. As an architect and a sculptor Lin is truly a phenomenon, sharply aware of her vision and her talents. As a film, Maya Lin has the dubious distinction of winning last year's Academy Award for best documentary, an award that was overshadowed by the omission of Hoop Dreams from the group of five documentary nominees. Unfortunately, this controversy may have obscured what is a powerful, inspiring account of a supremely talented woman's professional transformation from a 20-year-old undergraduate architectural student at Yale to an accomplished and renowned architect and sculptor. Mock's film is impressive in its scope as it traces Lin's winning the design competition for the Vietnam Memorial in 1982 to her being recognized in 1992 at the memorial's 10th anniversary. One of the more compelling sequences occurs as Lin recounts her feelings about winning the competition and the subsequent controversy that resulted because the memorial -- representing many conflicting emotions for many disparate groups of Americans -- was being designed by an Asian, a non-veteran, a woman, and a student. The civil rights fountain in Montgomery, Alabama; the Museum for African Art in New York City; and the project to commemorate the place of women at Yale are only a few of Lin's credits, but as we watch them being created, built, refined, and installed, Lin's confident yet unassuming voice provides insight into her design philosophy. The shape of the earth and its resources guide Lin as she designs pieces such as the one she created for the Wexner Center at Ohio University, a series of fluid and dazzling landscapes made from mixed shades of broken glass. Mock's film weaves an insightful account by Maya Lin with an impressive catalogue of images, but the film would benefit greatly from a more consistent use of dates with which to organize Lin's projects. Additionally, Mock's decision to present Lin's childhood and personal background one hour into the film proves frustrating but also interesting, suggesting that Lin's work, which comprises the first three-quarters of the film, is the most revealing information we could know about her. Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision proves not only that director Freida Lee Mock deserved her Academy Award, but also that the film and Maya Lin deserve much more recognition.
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