Dear Lemon Lima

Dear Lemon Lima

A scene from DEAR LEMON LIMA, a film by Suzi Yoonessi. Picture courtesy Phase 4 Films. All rights reserved.

Dear Lemon Lima (2009/2011)

Opened: 03/04/2011 Limited

Culver Plaza T...03/04/2011 - 03/10/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Family Comedy (English)

Rated: PG-13 for some thematic material and language.


Vanessa gets a dose of reality when Philip, her one true love, ends their relationship, again. The quirky teen enrolls in his school to win him back, but ends up making matters worse. Downgraded to social outcast, Vanessa struggles to reclaim Philip's affection. Luckily, when Vanessa is declared a captain for the school's Snowstorm Survivor competition, she assembles a team of likeminded misfits to prove they deserve to compete and hopefully win her love's heart again.

Production Notes

From the outset of Dear Lemon Lima, it was imperative to us that the Alaskan Native elements were authentic and that we garnered community support by approaching the 13 tribal councils in Alaska. Our initial inclination was to shoot the film in Fairbanks, Alaska, but because of budgetary constraints, we chose to shoot in Seattle, Washington, which has comparable breathtaking landscape and a thriving Alaskan Native community.

In casting our lead actress, it was integral to cast an Alaskan Native teenage girl. For months we posted casting notices in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Fairbanks and Anchorage as we searched for our lead. The tapes we saw from LA, NY and Seattle were underwhelming, so we continued to post in rural Alaska and communicated with every Native outlet available to get the word out about our search. We wanted every Alaska Native teenage girl to know about the film and have the opportunity to audition. A glimmer of hope arose when a young girl from Eagle River, a small town an hour outside of Anchorage, posted an audition tape of herself on YouTube after receiving an email from the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

Our lead character is played by half-Yup'ik Savanah Wiltfong who is familiar with Yup'ik dance and the WEIO (World Eskimo Indian Olympic) games. She had been in a few small productions at her middle school, but beyond that had no other acting experience. There was definitely a learning curve for Savanah as she learned the ropes of acting and navigated her way through her first film shoot, but the authenticity and support Savanah and her family brought to her character and to the film were tremendous and tangible.

The actualization of this film would also have not been possible without the support of the WEIO organization. The film features WEIO games such as the blanket toss, the stick pull, ear pull, and high kick. These "props" are not easily reproduced, nor are they available from any prop house. The WEIO organization generously loaned the production these priceless items and brought the recreation of the games to a whole new level. The blanket toss scene features two walrus skin blankets from Alaska, which measure 15 feet in diameter each. These blankets are incredibly rare- there are only 10 in the world- and we were fortunate enough to have two blankets in our film.

Our actors, and members of the production, were truly learning about Alaskan Native culture. We had the support of a female athlete who had actually participated in the Native games working as a supervisor overseeing scenes featuring the various games. She taught the actors the proper techniques to carry out the games, as well as the cultural significance of each event. Some of the games were quite an athletic feat; we even employed the help of a high school cheerleading squad to help with a scene featuring the 2-man carry- a Native game in which a single person carries two other members of his/her team in a race to the finish line.

The final challenge of creating an authentic presentation of an Alaska Native tradition came in the three dance performances in the film. Seattle has an incredible network of Alaska Natives and we were able to find Aleutian, Yup'ik and Inupiak dancers. The male and female leads in the film were taught dances inspired by traditional Yup'ik fan dance and Inupiak Walrus dance. The film also features a performance by a 30-person Aleutian dance group who make all their own dance regalia by hand. Their passionate performance in the film is aweinspiring and inspires faith in art and preserving cultural heritage, since the Aleutians have the most devastating history of any tribe in Alaska.

In addition to the numerous Native elements to secure for the film, Dear Lemon Lima also features a number of other unique/unconventional elements. Not only did the lead actors need to learn Native dance, they also learned American Sign Language and Spanish, as the film features three languages.

There were definitely challenges in making this film. It required a tremendous amount of time, energy, and determination to make the world we were creating believable. The story did not take place in just any American suburb. It took place in Fairbanks. It did not feature just any 13 year-old girl. It featured a half Yup'ik 13-year-old girl. It didn't feature just any competition. It featured the WEIO competition. But despite this specificity and our extremely low budget, we were able to pull it off. We got our Alaska, we got our dancers, we got our native games and, last but certainly not least, we got our girl.

Director's Vision

Seven years ago on Valentine's Day, I was brainstorming a clever gift for my best friend. In previous years, I had created a color field canvas of candy hearts, and a collage of heart stamps from the post office, but for Valentine's Day '03, I was hoping to give something more personal -- a found object. I ransacked my bedroom and found a diary I kept from age 8 through 13. The diary is a rainbowstudded, tragic and funny compilation of letters to my best imaginary friend, Lemon Lima. Each passage starts with a sweeping "Dear Lemon Lima," and proceeds to recount all of the mundane and innocent concerns of an adolescent trapped in Middle of Nowhere, America.

In flipping through the diary, I was struck by the genuine amount of love, passion and sincerity communicated in each passage. When I wrote about the strange boys I was infatuated with, I really was "In Lovvvvve." Now, as an adult, I laugh at the notion of true love, but in flipping through those pages, I felt a faint, nostalgic longing to love again in that sweeping, innocent way.

Hoping true love was still possible, I immediately threw myself headlong into a new relationship! Of course, it didn't take long for my relationship to end in total disaster, but it was worth the realization that true love also stems from the friendships that I have cultivated for years, and that every human connection deserves the love and compassion with which a 13-year old girl embraces the world.

I want to capture the values of the '60s love generation in our sarcastic, present day generation. I hope this film will be an honest portrayal of a lonely 13-year old girl, alienated from her community, and faced with heartbreak in Alaska. In the breathtaking landscape, I hope to capture the visual alienation created by modular housing atrocities set against sweeping, natural vistas.

I hope all of the performances are honest and rich with back-story. The humor will stem from the sincerity and honesty of each performance, not only from the broad visual comedy, but with every performance being heartbreaking in its honesty.