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Dear Lemon Lima

About the Film
Year Released: 
Running Time: 

When 13-year-old Vanessa experiences her first breakup, she rebounds by following the boy to his stifling prep school, where she receives the only minority scholarship for her Yup’ik background. Landing at the bottom of the school’s social ladder and confined to the weight room during P.E., she begins to rally with the other school misfits, including an animal-loving boy with overbearing parents, a girl named Nothing, and a pathological liar claiming Puff Daddy is her father. Vanessa’s attempts to find herself and win back the love of her life flounder, until she’s presented with an opportunity to captain the oddball team for the school’s bastardized version of the World Eskimo Indian Olympics—the Snowstorm Survivor competition.

Suzi Yoonessi’s delicious debut makes the life of her Alaskan teenage heroine as colorful and sweet as a snow cone. Confected with heartbreak and humor, Vanessa journeys from the fantastical world of unicorns, rainbows, and shadow puppets to the uncertain reality of adult complications, discovering that real friends can be just as fantastic as imaginary ones. A true underdog story, Yoonessi’s tale of compassion and camaraderie is certain to recall one’s own bittersweet memories of the delicate transition to adolescence.

-Jonathan Wysocki, Los Angeles Film Festival, 2009

Poster Image: 
Film Director: 
Production Info
Seattle, Washington
Other Interesting Production Info: 
o Shot in 26 days o Production of the Snowstorm Survivor competition was supported by the World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO) organization that loaned the production items for the film.
Filmmaking Team
Writer's Name: 
Suzi Yoonessi
Jonajo Donley & Melissa Lee
Sarah Levy
Primary Cast: 
o Vanessa Lemor Savanah Wiltfong, Philip Georgey Shayne Topp (So Random), Hercules Howard Zane Huett (Desperate Housewives), Samantha Combs Vanessa Marano (Switched at Birth), Megan Kennedy Meaghan Jette Martin (Camp Rock, Mean Girls 2), Mrs. Howard Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River), Principal Applebaum Beth Grant (Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko), Coach Roach Elaine Hendrix (Parent Trap)
Exhibition/Distribution Info
Phase 4 Films
Where to find it/How to get it: 
DVD widely available
  • LA Film Festival (World premiere, Accolade, Special Jury Award).
  • BFI’s London Int’l Film Festival (International Premier)
  • the Rome Int’l Film Festival and Soa Paulo Int’l Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize at the SF Int’l Asian Film Festival).


Personal Film Review and Cultural Context: 

Hearts throb and break in Iranian American filmmaker Suzi Yoonessi’s first feature film, Dear Lemon Lima (2009). Originally created as a short, with its feature-premiere at the 2009 LA Film Festival, this coming-of-age film stands out from the typical indie canon: featuring part-Yup'ik actress Savanah Wiltfong as 13-year-old Vanessa Lemor in her first ever acting role. As Vanessa attempts to win back her summer crush, Philip, the film’s animated doodle diary entries offer a lighthearted lens to examine the darker hurt of alienation, prejudice, and tragedy that permeate the large city of Fairbanks, Alaska. While Vanessa navigates the halls of high school and the aches of adolescence, she also wrestles with her Eskimo heritage and what it means to be a student of color in a privileged prep-school. By befriending the “rejects” and embracing her autonomy, Vanessa’s exploration of identity and adversity adds complexity to the film’s sweet and simple structure.

-Kate Elliott