Letters To Santa: COVID-19 On The Minds Of Children
Director Dana Nachman on her new film; Dear Santa
With unprecedented access to the US Postal Service’s Operation Santa program, director Dana Nachman directed the documentary Dear Santa. This tape, which captures dozens of moments of giving Christmas gifts to children on camera, is now shown in many states in America, both in theaters and on streaming platforms, including Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu and others..
“As a matter of courtesy, we showed Santa’s film back in July,” says Dana Nachman. – And he liked it “.
“This is a film that can restore our faith in the people around us and help us survive these difficult times,” writes columnist Drew Moniot for Drew’s Reviews..
The Operation Santa program has existed for over a hundred years. An entire army of “elves” is engaged by the US Postal Service. Volunteers read and sort hundreds of thousands of letters from American kids to Santa Claus. On the one hand, requests are selected that can actually be satisfied, and on the other hand, gifts are agreed with sponsors who agree to pay the costs.
Dana Nachman and her team have traveled dozens of states where they filmed in metropolitan areas, including New York and Chicago, and in small towns where the post office traditionally serves as the center of the community..
“Santa will explain how he finds good-hearted strangers in different parts of the country,” the press release said. “This timely documentary captures the warmth and spirit of the Christmas season through the prism of a great American tradition, making the audience wonder what the viewer can do to make life on the planet better.”.
Dana Nachman is a documentary filmmaker and former journalist. Her films have won dozens of Emmy and other awards at major film festivals in the United States and elsewhere. Her previous film, Pick of the Litter, about training guide dogs for the blind, which she directed with Don Hardy, premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival and launched the original Disney television series. The documentary “Betkid. The Beginning ”(BatkidBegins) can be considered thematically very close to“ Dear Santa ”. The hero of the film, a little boy with leukemia, dreams of being the all-powerful Batman for a while, and his dream is fulfilled by the Make a Wish Foundation.
; Dear Santa. Courtesy photo
Correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” spoke by phone with Dana Nachman.
Oleg Sulkin: What was the starting point for this project?
Dana Nachman: I learned of the existence of Operation Santa eight years ago. My mom bought a picture book from the post office, which I began to read aloud to my children. This is how I learned about this operation. And every subsequent year, in December, the thought came to me: why not make a film about this? But I realized myself too late, because December is a very busy time for postal workers. And I was shifting these plans for the next year. But in 2018, I said to myself: that’s it, stop procrastinating, it’s time to take on the project. By this time I had already shot two family films – “Betkid. Beginning “and” Puppy School “. I thought that the new film would be the logical conclusion to the “good mood” trilogy. Moreover, during the current crisis, children write much more letters to Santa Claus..
O.S.: Where did you start?
D.N .: I called the heads of the Postal Service and told them about my idea, about the amazing letters of the children to Santa – hilarious, funny, touching, sad and nagging. Six months have passed in the negotiations. And they finally agreed.
O.S.: You managed to complete everything before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic?
DN: Yes, we were lucky. We worked with letters, their authors and donors in November-December last year. There was very little to finish, and we managed to complete the project before March of this year. If we had not fit into this schedule, then the film would not have been.
O.S.: Thousands and thousands of letters are addressed to Santa Claus every year. You only had to choose a few of them. What were you guided by?
D.N .: First, we looked at the letters that the Postal Service allocated to the “special requests” section. That is, atypical requests. In general, not toys, but something unexpected. We immediately ran into difficulty. Postal rules prohibit transferring personal information from letters to anyone. We followed strict protocol here. The letters that interested us were sent by postmen to us with smeared lines, where there were names and addresses. After that, the postmen sent registered express letters to the parents of these children, where they explained that their children’s appeals to Santa aroused the interest of the creators of the documentary, and that if they did not mind taking part in this project, then let them contact the filmmakers by such and such a phone. So we just had to sit at the phone and wait tensely, hoping for calls. And when we got the first few interesting calls, we calmed down a bit. There was something to make a film of. It was important not to repeat myself, so that requests were about a variety of things..
; Dear Santa. Courtesy photo
O.S.: The most poignant moments in the film are when a child is handed a parcel or a box, he or she tears open the packaging and sees what he dreamed of, be it a board game, a skateboard, a gadget or a puppy. This genuine delight of the child, this happiness touch the heart of the viewer. But here it is interesting: everything happened spontaneously or an element of preliminary directing was present?
D.N .: Usually we spent several hours at the child’s house, talking with them and the parents, saying that we are authorized representatives of Santa. And the next day they came with a gift and filmed its delivery on camera. Well, of course, we agreed on something with the parents in advance, for example, when the gift was a puppy or a rabbit. But for the children themselves, everything was a real surprise..
O.S.: Were there any cases when you refused for some reason from a specific story?
D.N .: Yes. For example, when one child asked for a washing machine and dryer for his mother. We found a donor, everything was going well, but at some point we were told in confidence that the parents of this child were getting divorced and the atmosphere in the family was not happy. So we gave up on this plot. But Santa fulfilled the request for a washing machine.
O.S.: What turned out to be the most difficult part of the filming process?
D.N .: Race against time. Most of the letters to Santa are sent by kids between Thanksgiving and mid-December. During these few weeks, you need to do everything: negotiate with the parents, go to the addresses, organize the filming, get and give gifts. Logistics took time, and there was practically no time left. All in all, it was a crazy race.
O.S.: What geographic range have you covered?
D.N .: Almost the entire country. California, New York, Chicago, Michigan, Arizona, other states and cities.
O.S.: The most unexpected request?
D.N .: The boy asked Santa for a limousine ride. And we decided to end the film with her by filming this trip in Christmas New York lit up with lights..
O.S.: Who financed the project?
D.N .: United States Postal Service (USPS). They paid the entire budget. Documentary films are usually very difficult to make due to the chronic lack of funding. This is my sixth film, and on all previous projects, except for one, I experienced considerable financial difficulties. In one case, I had to go into credit card debt. So I’m very lucky here.
; Dear Santa. Courtesy photo
O.S.: How many requests does Santa do on average??
D.N .: I think several tens of thousands. I don’t know the exact figure. The scale of Santa’s gift giving and Christmas charity is staggering. There are hundreds of donors in the field. For example, in Syracuse, New York, a local Santa has been supplying dozens and dozens of families with food for a festive Christmas dinner for twenty years. There is a group of donors in Cleveland calling themselves “Santa’s Angels”. What do children not ask for? Bicycles, telephones, video games, mattresses, violins, balls, all kinds of toys, sweets. Santa’s Angels accumulate gifts in a huge hangar near the airport and distribute them to hundreds of children from poor and disadvantaged families.
O.S.: What message do you send to future viewers?
D.N .: I was hatching the idea for eight years. But this year is special: everything that could be bad seems to have happened. Covid-19, political instability, increasing poverty, unemployment. Yes, our film is about this too – about poverty in America, but we don’t put much pressure on this pedal. We talk about children, about childhood, about the magical fulfillment of desires. I like this angle. I have always considered myself an American patriot. The people I show in the film symbolize the best in our country. I am proud that I was able to show them. Since childhood, I liked the postal service, I even dreamed of working there. As a child, I was friends with a postman who brought us letters and treated me to candy. My film is a letter of love and gratitude to the postal service and the people who work there, who are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic..
O.S.: Will we need Batkid, the hero of your other film, to save humanity from all troubles??
D.N .: (laughs). Yes of course!
Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Voice of America Service in New York.