Dear Santa director hopes new doc brings holiday cheer to 'god-awful' year
Check out the exclusive first trailer for the holly jolly film that shines a light on the USPS' Operation Santa.
'Tis (almost) the season to be jolly, and IFC Films' new documentary Dear Santa has holly jolly goodness in spades.
Written and directed by Dana Nachman (Pick of the Litter), the film shines a light on the 100-year-old-plus Operation Santa program of the United States Postal Service — from the kids who write the letters to the North Pole, to the "adopter elves" who choose a child or family to help supply the presents themselves, to Santa's Elves (a.k.a the postal workers) who sort through the letters and later deliver the gifts.
In a conversation with EW about the film, Nachman says that around eight years ago her mother bought her a book from the post office about what happens to Santa's letters. "Every year at Christmas, I would read it to my kids," she says. "And I would think, oh my God, this is such an amazing book, but it would be an even better film."
And thus the idea for Dear Santa was born. To start, Nachman says she reached out to the U.S. Postal Service about her idea for the film, and to her surprise, they responded immediately saying they were interested in helping her tell the story. From there, Nachman and producer Chelsea Matter went to several letter-writing events held all over the country after Thanksgiving, where kids (and some adults, too!) write out their wishes to Santa and adopter elves can choose who they want to help. It was at those events, several of which appear in the film, that they met many of their subjects.
The trick, Nachman says, was to find the kids and adults who were asking for "special requests," as she put it. Think basic household necessities, 10 bunnies (yes, really), or a child asking for something to benefit their family as opposed to themself. The post office also knew to be on the lookout for such requests, and would send Nachman hundreds of possibilities for her to sort through.
Ultimately, they whittled it down to about 100 possible subjects, and then, through the post office, they'd reach out to the families and ask if they'd be interested in participating in the film. "We would just sit by the phone and stress out and wait," she says.
Another complication was time. Nachman and her team essentially had just under three weeks to get all the footage they needed. "Last year was the shortest time between Thanksgiving and Christmas that's possible. And most kids and families start turning their attention to writing letters to Santa right after Thanksgiving. So we had a very, very short time to shoot everything," she recalls. "We didn't obviously know about the pandemic at this time, but even so, we thought there's no way to go back, everything has to be done now."
Like a Christmas miracle, it all worked out, and the film is set to release in select theaters and on-demand Dec. 4 — and just in the Saint Nick of time, too. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but especially the post office, something that Nachman couldn't have foreseen when she started the film last year.
"It's been a travesty in my mind to see what's happening with the post office," she says, referring to the deluge of backlogs, delays, and financial problems the institution has battled this year. She continues, "Especially after I got this very close look into many, many workers. We had several scenes that we just couldn't even include because we had too much stuff of postal workers helping each other, helping others, and the real communal aspects of the post office... And so then now to see that they're under fire and under stress is really sad for me."
Ultimately, though, she says working on the post-production of the heartwarming film during 2020 was a "gift" for all involved, and she's excited to share that with the world. "The times that we're in are just so god-awful, once in a generation awful," Nachman says. "I just really hope that people can feel good for the 82 minutes that they're watching this. I would say I hope they leave the theater or their living room happier than when they came in. If it could help in some small way with people not feeling so alone and divided, I'd be thrilled."
Watch the exclusive first trailer for Dear Santa above, and catch the film in theaters or on-demand beginning Dec. 4. To participate in Operation Santa, or swap doom-scrolling with a bit of happiness in the form of past letters written to Santa, visit the USPS Operation Santa page here.
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