As the 67th Locarno Film Festival gears up, the festival known for discovering new trends will screen a film depicting a well-known North American holiday tradition – Christmas tree sales. Variety spoke to New York-based director about “Christmas, Again,” his film that shines a light on the lives of Christmas tree vendors. The vendors work 12-hour shifts on New York sidewalks and sleep in cars and campers during their off hours. The film led Poekel to set up shop himself to fund its making, and was supplemented through a Kickstarter.
What attracted you to making a film about Christmas tree vendors?
I had first moved to Brooklyn and I was trying to get a Christmas tree. It was 11 at night and I didn’t know if the Christmas stands were open or not, but I decided to go check one out and see if they were still open and the vendor said, “You know, we never close. We’re open 24 hours. We can’t lock the trees up.”
When he said that it kind of dawned to me that this was this crazy routine that if you live in New York you don’t really think about it.
You have your own Christmas tree stand- McGolrick Trees – which you’ve been running since 2010. Tell me why you decided to set up your own shop?
I realized that it would be difficult to shoot a movie at one of the stands because people are busy and everyone’s trying to make their money. So I thought what if I make my own stand and I can use the profits for the movie. I’ll have a location to shoot at and working at that stand will really give me the first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be one of these guys.
What was one of the most challenging aspect about being a Christmas tree vendor?
The biggest challenge was setting up and closing down. It’s physically demanding because you’re creating this whole stand overnight. You come in overnight or at 7 a.m. and you’re building this stand that sort of becomes your home for months. Another challenging part is the loneliness and that’s the basis of the film – taking a look at the night guys who just sit there and watch the world.
Where do you get the trees from?
We get them from all over. Some we get directly from the farm and some we get from wholesalers. The trees themselves come from North Carolina. Or certain times we get more local trees like from New York or New Jersey. We even got a couple organic trees last year.
Do you feel like Christmas trees have a future with so many families switching to fake trees?
Honestly I feel like people are switching over to real trees. Even when people walk by the stand they’re just overcome by the smell and people really love that. We sell a lot of trees to people who haven’t had a tree in a while and they’ve had a fake one for a few years but they just want to switch it up. Every year we see a lot of people getting back into Christmas trees.
Tell me more about the process of working with a Kickstarter.
We really got a good amount of money just from the profits from the stand and then we had some outside investors and we felt like we were just a little short. We just felt that our film at the tree stand was very unique and we saw that we were just “x” amount of dollars short and thought that Kickstarter was a good opportunity to do that. And I would say we did it just in time.
Will you also set up shop this year at Christmastime?
Yeah I think so! I’ve really come to love it actually. The neighborhood here has actually come to depend on it and I’ve been getting repeat costumers every year. There are little kids who were two or three when I started who are now going into kindergarten or first grade. It’s really cool to see people come back every year.