‘Christmas Again’ offers poignant antidote for holiday blues
January 20, 2015
There is something intangible about Charles Poekel’s feature-length narrative "Christmas Again" that sets audiences adrift in time. The story could be unfolding during the holidays in 1978, or just last year.
Poekel says that ambiguity was deliberate, from the selection of props to the tight camera angles. Most of all, though, he says, it was the decision to banish digital storage cards in favor of Super 8 and 16mm film that gives the film its unique visual quality.
"All of the films I had grown up on were shot on film and when I grew up I thought that’s what I would be doing," he said. "I love digital but the last developing lab around here just closed down and I was scared film was disappearing."
The difference can be compared to the contrast between the warm glow of old-style outdoor Christmas lights and today’s eye-piercing LEDs.
"Our setting with the trees and the Christmas lights and the 1970s camper were so textural. I really believed our story and setting was best captured on film, it added to the grain and aesthetic.
Surprisingly, he said, using film did not break the budget. It may cost more up front to develop film, but, he explained, those expenses can be made up for in post-production.
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Instead of requiring a lot of time-consuming post-production work, Poekel said the film "just needed a rough color correction." Of course, he added, it helps to have a "fantastic" cinematographer like Sean Price Williams.
Another touch of authenticity comes from Poekel’s decision to research his story by opening an actual Christmas tree stand in New York. Proceeds from selling the trees, also helped to fund the film, he said with a laugh.
Most of the scenes take place at the tree stand, on a New York City side street backlit by strings of Christmas lights, or inside the main character’s tiny on-site camper.
The plot moves slowly in small, subtle steps. Noel, played by Kentucker Audley, has lost his girlfriend, his partners are slackers, his employer is unsympathetic and the dismal weather matches his mood.
To ease his heartache Noel takes pain pills stashed in an Advent calendar normally stocked with candies. As his despair deepens, Noel begins popping pills more frequently – until a chance encounter with a fellow lost soul, Lydia, played by Hannah Gross.
"I wanted to make a Christmas film but didn’t want to hit people over the head. You don’t have to have carols," he said.
Instead, for the soundtrack, Poekel and his crew chose music spanning a number of eras from the post-war anthems of the 1940s to current playlists. Adding to the vintage atmosphere, he used Clara Rockmore’s exotic theremin tunes of the 1920s.
"Christmas Again" is screening in the NEXT category of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. According to Sundance Film Festival programming director John Cooper, the NEXT category highlights films that tell stories in new and unique ways. Poekel’s methods, the use of 16mm film and a little-known musical instrument from the past may not be new but they are unique and courageous and have therefore earned their niche in NEXT.
"Christmas Again" is being screened in the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT category. It will be shown:
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