5 Questions: ‘Cliff, Superfan!’s’ Diane Moy Quon

Diane Moy Quon Wisconsin Film Fest

“…we can sit by someone for years and not ask the questions or take the time to get to know that person.”

Amidst a sea of cardinal red, one face is likely to stand out at Stanford games: that of Clifford Hayashi. At face value, Hayashi is a worthy subject all on his own. The 60-something “superfan” of Stanford athletics has become a campus staple, having seen literally thousands of games over two decades — not that a shred of fame seems to go to his head.

Both Hayashi and Cliff, Superfan!‘s winning appeal are defined by the palpable humility of their human mysteries. What distinguishes this Golden Badger winner is the routes it takes to unearthing that mystery. Director Diane Moy Quon organically unfolds an intricate portrait of her subject for a stirring tribute to the power of community. Hayashi’s life isn’t as glamorous (nor scandalous, depending on whom you ask) as university legends tell, but cheering on the water polo team is but a part of his life — a life that’s best experienced free of spoilers on this end. 

To kick off our “5 Questions” interview series with 2017’s “Wisconsin’s Own” directors, I reached out to Diane Moy Quon, a Ripon College graduate who works on documentaries produced by Kartemquin Films:

1. You raised funds for this through Kickstarter which isn’t unique for financing these days. What is remarkable is that you reached your initial goal in one day. Where did that support come from?

Yes, it was an amazing surprise to reach the goal so quickly! And I think I have an idea why. First of all, my three daughters are all marketing whizzes (you see them on the Kickstarter video) and they organized the campaign so well! In addition, I would guess about 2/3rd of the support came from friends and family who had no ties with Stanford or Cliff. The other third were friends I made through Stanford who knew and appreciated Cliff as my two younger daughters were student-athletes at Stanford.

I lost my beautiful 22-yr-old son, Chris, almost eight years ago. Devastated, for a long time it was hard for me to get out of the house, much less pursue the undertaking of producing a short film (something I had always wanted to do). When I was finally ready, I was overwhelmed with the love and support from so many people who wanted to see me — and my family — succeed. This includes Cliff. He only did the doc because he knew it would help me keep moving forward. The pledges just poured in, and I was so grateful!

2. Your Kickstarter video uses testimonials from student athletes and others who know Clifford but in the actual film, you’re directly following Clifford’s daily life firsthand.

When I created the Kickstarter video with editor Taylor Chan, we really wanted to demonstrate the fact that so many Stanford folks — including me — knew who Cliff was but that most didn’t know the man beyond the fact that he was the “superfan.” I thought the real-life testimonials really exemplified this idea. It was obvious that most folks have seen Cliff in action for years but to most he was a mystery, and so the doc would try to give us a glimpse of the real Cliff. After getting all the footage of Cliff, my wonderful editor, Katerina Simic, and I tried including some of the testimonials, but saw pretty quickly that we really didn’t need them — and in fact, they took away from Cliff’s story. To get a sense of who Cliff was — his personality and what makes him tick — seeing him in action and living his daily life was much more revealing.

3. You initially show Clifford at arm’s length, almost telegraphing him as a mystery for the viewer before the film warms up to him. How do you want the audience to feel about Clifford?

When I was getting testimonials, everyone wanted to know his story: why he loved Stanford sports so much, what was his family life like. So I think it’s safe to say he was a mystery to most. Everyone had so many theories about Cliff and shared them with me: that he was independently wealthy; that he invented something that made him rich; that he never attended Stanford; that he was a professor at Stanford; that he was some sort of a genius; that he was related to me since my daughter was one of the few Asians on the soccer team! It was interesting to me that we can sit by someone for years and not ask the questions or take the time to get to know that person.

I hope that audiences will come away appreciating Cliff and seeing how much in his own way he truly loves and supports the athletes and sees them as family. He wants nothing in return, however you can see how much it means to him to be appreciated and needed by the teams. I hope after seeing the film, audiences will take the time to get to know someone that they may see often but have never had the chance to get to really know. I hope that the film will be a reminder to thank the various “superfans” in our lives.

4. Cliff, Superfan! takes a left turn when we learn about how he spends his time outside of Stanford games. Without spoiling anything, this second “hobby” shares a great deal with the film’s sense of community. How do you see its relationship to that more public side of Clifford?

After spending so much time with Cliff, I could see how much it meant to him to be part of a community and how important family meant to him. It’s important to him to continue to make connections with his various communities — whether it be the Stanford sporting community or [otherwise]. Communities are like family to him and drive him to do what he does. I think we are all like Cliff: all of us look for ways to feel connected.

5. You’ve had lots of contact with Clifford while making this. What does he think of you, a fan, making a movie about his fandom?

When I first asked Cliff if he would be willing to be my subject, he couldn’t understand why! He thought I should do a film about my athletic daughters. When I told him I was taking a documentary class and doing it to honor my son, he agreed to do the film. Cliff is a very sensitive and generous man, although it may not always be obvious. We’ve shared many tears along this journey, and although Cliff still hasn’t told me what he thinks of the film, I think he likes the film for sharing his story!