Love of the Natural World

Director Jake Oelman checks in with DCEFF, since screening his film LEARNING TO SEE at the 2016 Festival.

Jake Oelman is a director and producer of independent feature films. In 2011 Oelman produced a concert documentary about the annual Electric Daisy Carnival, the largest electronic music festival in North America. The film, THE EDC EXPERIENCE, premiered nationwide as a part of NCM Fathom Events and is currently available on Netflix and iTunes. Jake’s most recent film LEARNING TO SEE had its DC premiere at the 24th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (DCEFF 2016).


DCEFF: How did you find DCEFF 2016? Any highlights, memorable meetings, quotes?

JAKE OELMAN: DCEFF was incredible. The audience was not only passionate about the content of the film but were uber inquisitive as well. I constantly felt myself engaged with patrons who wanted to know more and who genuinely cared about the film’s message. I was also pleasantly surprised by how diverse the audience was. Scientists, teachers, filmmakers, nature advocates, and many other individuals made for fantastic post screening conversations.


DCEFF: What have you been up to, since the 2016 Festival? Other festivals, awards, projects?

JO: The film first premiered at SXSW and then played DCEFF. Since then LEARNING TO SEE has screened at Nashville, Mammoth Lakes, and the South Bay Film & Music Festival. At Mammoth the film took home the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary and at South Bay it won the Cause Cinema Spotlight Award. It screened at the Greenwich International Film Festival and was recently accepted into the Port Townsend Film Festival. Aside from touring with the film I’ve been working on developing new film projects and doing editorial work for Nitro Circus which is an action sports based entertainment company.


DCEFF: How did you get first get involved in filmmaking?

JO: I’ve been a lover of cinema since I was a young boy but professionally I got my start by making snowboard and skateboard videos. I had a lot of friends who were sponsored pros and documenting their progression came naturally to me. Plus it was a good way for me to get practical production experience. Once I moved to LA in the early 2000’s I started doing a lot of music, live event, and commercial work. I had always wanted to direct features and after about ten years I got my first opportunity with a romantic comedy called DEAR SIDEWALK.


DCEFF: What drew you to this particular project? Why did you feel the need to capture your father’s story in LEARNING TO SEE?

JO: My father moved to Colombia, South America right after I graduated from high school and I was always fascinated by his story. He made such a dramatic lifestyle change and not only was I interested in his story but every time I would tell somebody about him they were often in disbelief. The fact that it was personal and I got to see someone so close to me make serious changes to improve and enjoy their lives just seemed like the right choice.


DCEFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

JO: The biggest challenge for me making this film was staying objective. Since the story is so personal, I took for granted what I know about my Dad and that is a slippery slope. The audience obviously doesn’t know my Dad the way that I do so I needed to consciously try and forget what I know in order to make the story comprehensive.


DCEFF: What made you decide to submit to DCEFF 2016?

JO: My producer Jerry Aronson was familiar with DCEFF and we both had a lot of colleagues who spoke highly of the festival. Given the subject of LEARNING TO SEE it felt like the right fit and it really was. Like I said before the passion of the audience just blew me away.


DCEFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important?

JO: DCEFF is important on multiple levels. First off I think it’s great for filmmakers and audiences who have a deep-seated love of the natural world to get into the same room and share their experiences and ideas with one another. More importantly I feel like the global environment is at risk now more than ever in human history. Filmmakers need platforms like DCEFF to get the word out about whats happening in the world so we can collectively try and come up with solutions to combat the problems facing the planet.


DCEFF: What do you think makes for a good environmental film?

JO: I think good environmental films are the ones that are both personal as well as accessible. When they’re personal I think it allows for the audience to have a greater sense of empathy toward the subject matter even if they know nothing about it. When there are aspects of humanity tied to the story people relate to the human being on screen and through this accessibility to human emotion they become vested in the subject matter.


DCEFF: How have audiences received your film? (At DCEFF and other festivals.)

JO: The response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only are people fascinated by my father’s photographic work and discovery of these amazing insects but they admire his story of change and personal growth. I had a woman come up to me at DCEFF after the screening with tears in her eyes thanking me. She said, “This is the single most important film I’ve seen because it gives me hope for humanity.” I heard that and I was floored. Having her react to my film in such a profound way really moved me.


DCEFF: What’s the next project in your pipeline? Does it address the same or another personal or environmental issue?

JO: I have four film projects that I’m working on and three of them are cause based. One is a narrative where the protagonist is a military vet struggling with suicide and PTSD. The other two are documentaries both tied to the natural world in one way or another. The first deals with the gradual disappearance of the Mom and Pop ski resort industry and the second project revolves around trees. These projects are all still in the developmental stage. That said I’m really excited to sink my teeth into something new.


To learn more about Jake Oelman and his film, LEARNING TO SEE visit

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