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SxSW 2016 Interview: LEARNING TO SEE: THE WORLD OF INSECTS director Jake Oelman

by Jason Whyte

"LEARNING TO SEE: THE WORLD OF INSECTS is the story of my Dad, who at 52 years old left his job as a psycho-therapist to move to Colombia where he became one of the best macro insect photographers in the world. It takes a special human being to move to Pablo Escobar's Colombia in the early 1990s not being able to speak a word of Spanish. Then to spend his time scouring the Amazonian rain forests looking for strange and exotic species the likes of which the world has never seen before has the makings of a modern day legend." Director Jake Oelman on LEARNING TO SEE: THE WORLD OF INSECTS which screens at the 2016 edition of South By Southwest Film.

I am looking forward to seeing LEARNING TO SEE at SxSW and hearing this is your first time here! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

Really happy to be having the World Premiere of the film at SxSW. I'll be attending the first two of my three screenings.

Talk to me a bit about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work!

I got my start in the industry by making snowboard and skateboard videos for the home VHS and DVD market in the mid 1990s!

How did LEARNING TO SEE come together from your perspective?

I started working on this film ten years ago and it has been a constant evolution. I always knew there was something to my father's story and in the process it became something so much more. The Kickstarter campaign for the film in 2013 got the ball rolling and we were able to keep the momentum going all the way until now.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Filmmaking is all about the love of the process, the love of the story, and the sickly sweet love of pain.

What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The hardest part of making this film was the personal nature of it. It not only was hard to keep myself out of the film which in the end I believe was the right choice but it was also hard to stay objective. When you wear a lot of hats while telling a family story staying objective is tough because you need to force yourself to forget what you know so that the audience isn't left in the dark. There were however a lot of special moments amidst the struggles. Watching my Dad get excited like a little kid when photographing something he had never seen before was pretty rewarding. It wasn't until he started opening up in interviews, becoming more comfortable with sharing himself and his experiences was really when the project went from a personal story to a feature film.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie.

The film was shot on a Panasonic AF100 using Zeiss ZF Prime lenses. I used a little bit of GoPro for some of the travel stuff. I shot this with my long time collaborator Tom Lembcke who shot about half of my interviews. Him and I both really like using Primes as they force you into the perspective that you want to see. A lot of the time I was a one man band so I just tried to balance how I covered scenes. Ultimately it would have been better to shoot two cameras but since that wasn't realistic I did my best to really try and see scenes and locations from a 360 degree coverage standpoint. I am a huge nature lover and lover of trees so my camera would always gravitate that direction laying the backdrop of the film.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I shot my first feature in Austin and it premiered at the Austin Film Festival with a great reception. So I am really proud to bring this documentary to SXSW and particularly, Austin audiences. The artistic freedom that the city embraces makes screening a film there pretty special.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Any dream venues?

After SXSW the film screens at the DC Environmental Film Festival on March 26th.

I would love to have either an LA or New York screening but not for the reasons you might imagine. Yes, they are biggest markets in the US but the fact that they are the exact opposite of the rainforest in so many ways I want to see how people react to these earthbound aliens.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Would you text on a date? If the answer is no then put your phone away and watch the film. If the answer is yes than the date is the one who should walk out on this picture.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

The best advice I can give is that you have to love it because if you don't, it's not worth it. It's so difficult on so many levels that you have to be 100% committed or else your film career will be short lived.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?

My favorite film is still Peter Weir's FEARLESS but my favorite cinema experience is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Be sure to follow the progress of LEARNING TO SEE by visiting or on Facebook!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/07/16 18:01:51
last updated: 03/07/16 18:02:56
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