Charles Poekel’s “Christmas, Again” is more anthropological study than holiday movie. The film is a quotidian portrait of a Christmas tree vendor as he navigates holiday season in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Poekel’s background in documentary is writ large in “Christmas, Again,” which is told largely in anecdotes with clientele. The quiet observational lens is enhanced by Poekel’s deliberate decision to shoot in Super 16.
What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?
“Christmas, Again” is about a heartbroken Christmas-tree salesman coming to terms with his future while still surrounded by his past.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
I think the film is mostly about loneliness, isolation, and sacrificing oneself for the common good of a community. I wanted to tell a Christmas story without all the heavy-handedness that usually goes with it. I’m fascinated with the lifestyle of New York City tree vendors, and I wanted to see how that setting would affect someone dealing with a serious breakup. It’s also about finding comfort in unlikely places and from unlikely people.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
The screenplay was the biggest challenge by far. I started writing it in my spare time while working at a documentary film company, 4th Row Films. It took about three years and plenty of skepticism on my behalf before I even had a first draft. Also, the weather. We shot “Christmas, Again” on location mostly outside in the cold of December in a tiny heated trailer on the side of the street. We had plenty of hand-warmers. So many hand-warmers, in fact, that I’m still finding them in the pockets of jackets a year later.
What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?
I’d like for audiences to think more about some of the strangers working so closely around them. And that kindness shouldn’t just be reserved for the holidays. But from a filmmaking standpoint, I’d like for people to realize that shooting on film is a financially feasible aesthetic option. One that I hope is always available. And that Kentucker Audley is a force to be reckoned with.
Are there any films that inspired you?
“The Conversation,” “Fires on the Plain,” “Harlan County USA.” But the most inspiring films to me are the ones from my peers. Last year it was “Heaven Knows What,” “Listen Up Phillip,” “Actress,” “Wild Canaries,” “Joy Kevin,” “Navajazo,” and “Buzzard,” to name a few. That list could go on.
What’s next for you?
Writing a script with my fiancé. (Which is going great, in case you’re wondering.)
What cameras did you shoot on?
The Aaton XTR. And then we used old Zeiss lenses with 3-bladed irises that give triangular bokeh that look like Christmas trees. Sean Williams gets all the credit on that one.