Film Fest Winners at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival


Closing day at the Mammoth Lake Film Festival brought more fascinating films and some surprises – plus the fest’s awards ceremony.

Once again, before we get to the films, a shout out to festival programmer Paul Sbrizzi and festival director Shira Dubrovner for putting together a stellar festival that’s deliciously small now, but probably won’t stay that way. We see this fest growing exponentially each year. Our take away:  hey folks, if you’re looking for adventurous and varied cinema, and the type of experience where you can chat with the filmmakers and join in a Q & A comfortably, plan a trip next spring.


Above, Learning to See director Jake Oelman with festival director Shira Dubrovner.

Today, two documentary features and one doc short took center stage.  Learning to See is an absolutely fascinating and personal story about the life and photography of Robert Oelman, who put aside his psychology career to move to Columbia, learn Spanish, and become a renowned photographer of obscure and often undocumented insect species in the Amazon basin. Stunning photographic images and a sweet and fascinating portrait of  filmmaker Jake Oelman’s father,  this is a vibrant, beautiful documentary that makes bugs, yes bugs, incredibly beautiful.  It also presents a cogent argument for the preserving the ecology of the rain forest.


Appearing with Learning to See was Open Your Eyes, a touching and unique look at life in Nepal and an elderly couple whose cataracts led them to blindness, but through the efforts of the Seva Foundation, a relatively simple operation resorted their sight.  The short was created through HBO docs by Irene Taylor Brodsky who also directed the fest feature Beware the Slenderman.


Next up was the narrative feature  Last Summer,  by Italian director Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli. Starring Rinko Kikuchi (star of Kumiko, Treasure Hunter, an indie fest favorite two years ago) as a mother forced to give up custody of her sweet six year old son, this is a moving and elegiac tribute to the resilience of the human heart.

Sonita was the closing fest film, a moving, deeply engrossing doc in which the director, Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, becomes intimately involved in the life of 18 year old Afghan refugee Sonita Alizadeh, a talented rapper/musician whose mother plans to sell her into an arranged marriage for $9000. Heartfelt, riveting, and with the classic structure of fiction,  this festival favorite is one passionate piece of filmmaking that took Sundance by storm earlier this year.

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The fest concluded with a truly fun party at the Sierra Event Center, along with the fest awards ceremony. The awards themselves are as charming and unique as the festival: carved wooden bears.

Shorts award winners:


Above right, Adrian Geyer

Narrative short:

Honorable Mention: Tisure, the brilliantly beautiful film shot in a remote locale in Venezuela by director Adrian Geyer. “I’m going back to m country with more inspiration,” Geyer said.  This one was my favorite short.

Winner: A Night in Tokoriki, the witty, fresh tragicomic tale of a love triangle unfolding in a small town Romanian nightclub.

Documentary/Animated short:

Honoable Mention: Night Stalker, a surreal and beautifully animated Claymation piece featuring a different dimension brought on by haunted/poisoned takeout food.

Winner:  The Second Life, a doc in which a Russian woman freezes her 91 year old mother in liquid nitrogen in the hopes of a future unfreezing and second chance at rebuilding her relationship with her mother.

Feature length winners:

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Above right, Jake Oelman with Shira Dubrovner and Kathleen and Paul Rudder.

Audience awards documentary:

Learning to See,  the poignant and exciting look at insects, photography, and a life reborn by Jake Oelman.

Presenting the award, fest sponsors Paul and Kathleen Rudder note that the filmmakers participating in the fest have “put Mammoth on the map along with festival director Shira Dubrovner and programmer Paul Sbrizzi, and we’re thrilled to have you all bringing culture and film to town.”

Audience Award narrative:


Above, Robert Picardo (Innerspace) awards Alex Simmons (center) and Flula Borg

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Buddymoon, the hilarious buddy comedy set in the Oregon woods.  Director Alex Simmons notes “I can’t think of a better place to screen this movie about hiking in the woods than at the Forest Service theater in the woods here in Mammoth.”  Co-star Flula Borg added “We are prompt, sassy, and dope, and we love the award. We will saw it in half and share it.” This audience-pleaser was our top pick, too.


Jury Narrative feature:

Honorable mention: Mad, for the film’s “deeply moving performances and beautifully realized drama about mental illness and the struggle to find equilibrium in a family,” as presenter John Kelly described it.

Winner: the lyrical Bodkin Ras, which combines fiction with documentary in a surprising and haunting story of a fugitive in a small Scottish town.

Jury Documentary:

Honorable mention:

Under the Sun, Vitaly Mansky’s look at North Korea through the eyes of a young girl and her family.

Winner: Sonita, the compelling tale of Afghan refugee and rapper Sonita,  and filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s involvement in her life.

Below the crew that made the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival happen.

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Paul and Kathleen Rudder with Jake Oelman



Alex Simmons, Flula Borg, and author




Micah Vassau, Festival Programmer Paul Sbrizzi

There you have it: the final day of the 2nd annual Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. Director interviews and fest summary will be appearing  later this week. If you missed this year’s festival, don’t miss next year’s chance to see snowy mountain peaks, breathe in fresh air, acclimatize to 8000 foot elevation mountain heights, and most of all see great, eclectic filmmaking in a friendly, intimate atmosphere.

  • Genie Davis; All Photos Jack Burke