SXSW Film Review: Learning to See

Photographer captures unrecorded insects of the Amazon

Memories of his rough childhood propelled Robert Oelman into a quarter century as a psychologist, but he was frustrated. Were his patients getting better? Was he getting better? There had to be more.

He read Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera and decided to travel to Colombia and then, amid the country's drug-fueled violence in the early Nineties, he bought land and stayed. He started taking photos - first of the Colombians around him, then of hummingbirds, then of insects. With the aid of a local assistant with the vision to spot bugs seemingly everywhere, Oelman discovered both a photographic passion and a problem. Countless insect species had never been recorded, and many never would as swathes of the rainforest fall to industry. Oelman's filmmaker son Jake honors his father's story in this thoughtful doc, but chooses not to insert himself into the narrative (we have no hint that Oelman was ever married or a parent). Instead we get Oelman's thrill of discovery, and the amazing macro images of insects that gave focus to his life. The lurking message is of the fragility of a big, beautiful planet that has still not been fully explored.

Learning to See

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 15, 5:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Friday, March 18, 11:30am, Alamo Ritz

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