Anyone who saw the film “Keeper of the Mountains” at a film festival last year knows one thing: A great character can make a great film. Allison Otto, the film’s director—and AFS alumni—featured Elizabeth Hawley, a 90-year-old Himalayan mountaineering archivist in Nepal.
Hawley’s story is so special, and Otto’s portrayal of it so intimate, that audiences fell in love. The film won 11 awards, screened at 25 festivals and was selected for both the MountainFilm in Telluride World Tour and Banff Mountain Film World Tour.
“A compelling story trumps high-tech flash in a film every time,” Otto says. “You don’t have to have the priciest gear—just find a great character or a really compelling story.”
Otto, who attended AFS in Santa Fe in 2009, runs Small Dog On The Go Productions, named after her dog Cosette, who loves to travel along with her to shoots. Before she got into filmmaking, Otto worked as a sports writer. Since she picked up the camera, filmmaking gigs have taken her far and wide, working for The Travel Channel, Lonely Planet, Outside Television, Outside Magazine and MTV. She describes her filmmaking style as “one woman band,” and focuses on the type of character-driven storytelling that made “Keeper of the Mountains” a hit.
A little closer to her Denver home, her latest project is taking place along the U.S.-Mexican border in colorful—both literally and figuratively—Bisbee, Ariz. Nine miles north of the Mexican border, Bisbee is a former copper mining community affected by Arizona’s second largest economic decline in the nation in 2009, behind only Michigan.
She’s heading up an interactive documentary and community project exploring rural transformation and reinvention within Bisbee. “The project combines short character-driven vignettes of Bisbee locals, videos created by local students, historic photographs, data visualizations, and soundscapes in a multiplatform experience that encourages user participation and a discourse about rural reinvention and life in the Southwestern borderlands,” she says.
Check out the project’s Kickstarter page here.
Watch the “Keeper of the Mountains” trailer below.