Charles Poekel makes his feature debut with Christmas, Again, a drama about Noel, a young man who comes back to New York City to find himself. He works the night shift selling Christmas trees while he sinks deeper into that special brand of urban loneliness anyone who has spent time in the city knows well. Christmas, Again debuted in competition at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival. The film screens Tuesday, March 24 and Saturday, March 28 at the 44th New Directors/New Films, which continues through March 29.
Charles Poekel, USA, 2014, 79m
Description: A forlorn Noel (Kentucker Audley) pulls long, cold nights as a Christmas-tree vendor in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. As obnoxious, indifferent, or downright bizarre customers come and go, doing little to restore Noel’s faith in humanity, only the flirtatious innuendos of one woman and the drunken pleas of another seem to lift him out of his funk. Writer-director Charles Poekel has transformed three years of “fieldwork” peddling evergreens on the streets of New York into a sharply observed and wistfully comic portrait of urban loneliness and companionship. While Christmas, Again heralds a promising newcomer in Poekel, it also confirms several great young talents of American indie cinema: actors Audley and Hannah Gross, editor Robert Greene, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams.
Responses from Charles Poekel
On living inside a film:
Watching films as a child is what drew me to filmmaking. I suppose I thought that if I couldn't live inside a film, I could settle for making them. And then other people could live inside it.
On heartbreak and selling Christmas trees in New York City:
After moving to NYC I quickly fell in love with Christmas-tree stands. I thought the job was just so weird and unique and I hadn't seen it explored before in a film. I thought it would be a great environment for a heartbroken character; something all of us can relate to. I also loved the idea of solitude within a busy city.
On becoming a tree-stand expert:
For the leads, I was as much concerned with their familiarity of the tree stand as I was their actual lines. So the actors (Kentucker Audley, Jason Shelton, and Oona Roche) came to the tree stand a few times before we started shooting and I would have them unwrap trees, saw branches, and even sell trees to customers, and we'd hang out in the camper as often as we could. I wanted them to feel as natural as possible in the environment.
For the customers, our casting director Eléonore Hendricks primarily found nonprofessional actors, non-actors, and in many cases even actual customers at the tree stand. We really wanted the people coming in and out of Noel's life to feel authentic. We filmed a lot of these scenes with hand-held cameras because with non-actors, you never know how many good takes you can get, and we didn't want to feel bogged down with multiple setups. This gives their interactions a naturalistic, almost documentary vibe, which was important to our aesthetic.
On trusting your instincts and not getting frostbite:
For me the biggest challenges were mental ones: having the confidence to make the film, trusting my instincts, convincing myself it was a story worth telling, that kind of thing. There were also a lot of physical challenges related to shooting a Christmas film mostly outside in the winter. We went through a lot of hand-warmers.
On future projects:
I'm wrapping up a script that I've written with my wife, who helped produce Christmas, Again. It's an ensemble piece set in the mid-90s.
Bonus: Charles Poekel talks about shooting on film in this New Directors/New Films video interview!