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How the Mammoth Lakes Film Fest is Making a Splash in Indie Film

05/27/2015 02:06 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival founder Shira Dubrovner thinks filmmakers will gladly trade city life and L.A. traffic for some quiet time at a mountain retreat.

"Because of the landscape, and what we offer by geology alone, it's conducive to a film festival," Dubrovner tells me.

Dubrovner is carving out a unique niche in the independent film scene with the first annual Mammoth Lakes Film Festival , which is underway this week just a five-hour drive north of Los Angeles in an idyllic mountain landscape a world away from Hollywood. It's a concept that worked for Robert Redford, and Sundance is an arduous 10.5-hour drive from L.A. (I know because I've timed it -- twice.)

"There are so many film festivals across America, we really wanted to be a festival that caters to the filmmaker and also the film lover," Dubrovner says. "But first and foremost we want to be supporting the true artist."

To that end, Dubrovner brought on board Paul Sbrizzi as the fest's director of programming. Sbrizzi has over fifteen years of experience working, organizing and programming for film festivals, including Slamdance, Los Angeles Film Festival, and Outfest.

"We approached programming from the point of view of doing something interesting and inspired," Sbrizzi tells me. "We're really looking to create a festival that's about filmmaking that comes from a genuine place of self expression."

The festival will present sixteen films in its narrative and documentary competition, in addition to short films, special events and an industry panel discussion on women in the filmmaking world, which includes producer Allison Amon (The Queen of Versailles) and actress Kristanna Loken actress (Terminator 3).

So how did Sbrizzi go about selecting a program to set the Mammoth Lakes Film Fest apart?

"I get a gut feeling when i see a film. I'm looking for a film where I feel something intimate about the filmmaker," he says. "I'm looking for films that are, rather than being issue driven, that are really dealing with character."

"He will sift through all the films to find a true artist that is going deeper than everybody else is," says Dubrovner.

Unique standouts on the schedule include Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine from Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, which is opening the fest. The film is critical examination of Jobs and candid look at his legacy.

"We're honored to have that film at our first festival," says Dubrovner. "It's not always pretty, but it's truthful and honest."

Another standout Sbrizzi pointed out is Cartel Land, which follows two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy - the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

"It examines how corruption can eat up a movement from the inside," says Sbrizzi. "The main character is a doctor, the corruption affects him in a very personal way."

While the screening slate is diverse, each film was programmed for its emotional impact on the audience.

"There's a passionate, truthful honesty to all of them," says Dubrovner. " We don't want to be a trend follower, we want to be a trend setter."