2015 Sundance Trading Card Series: #2. Charles Poekel (Christmas, Again)
Eric Lavallee: Name me three of your favorite “2014 discoveries”…
Charles Poekel: Moodymann – Moodymann. Kentucker Jones. First World War Poems from the Front. Festival del film Locarno. The Kroll Show. Émile Waldteufel. IFP
Lavallee: You choose a “method writing” process. While you might have learned about the methods used in this particular industry, and perhaps the solitude that can be experienced with this job, how did your triple Christmas’ on a lot inform you about human interaction during this unique point of interaction/sales?
Poekel: Selling trees reminded me a lot of working in the hospitality industry when I was younger. You have no control over who you’re having to interact with. And obviously in New York City there’s no shortage of characters. What’s nice about selling trees is that everyone is there for the same purpose–to bring a little cheer and happiness into their homes.
Lavallee: In the film circle and indie cinephile public at large Sean Price Williams is a master of his domain. What visual strategies did you have in place for the nocturnal aspects of the film — how does 16mm then inform us about the psyche of the character?
Poekel: Sean thought of the tree stand as an oasis of light in a sea of darkness. In real life these tree stands are lit pretty brightly, so we used mainly just practical lights and a TON of Christmas lights to light the stand. The big pay-off for me is when the lights finally go out at the end. It’s something that happens regularly (when the generator runs out of gas) and it’s a quiet and dark moment that I really wanted to replicate. For Kentucker’s character, the lights going out have an opposite effect for him emotionally; the figurative lights go on when the literal ones go out.
Lavallee: You debuted your film at Locarno, which means it’s even more of an impressive feat that you got into a festival that almost uniquely serves for world premieres. And is there a small part of you that wanted to add a different take on the Holiday film canon?
Poekel: That was my goal from the beginning. I’ve never understood why genre films (especially Christmas films) had to be so heavy-handed. I wanted the Christmas-ness of the film to slowly reveal itself even after the audiences have left.
Lavallee: I’m assuming that this past Christmas was not spent on a lot selling trees, did you feel a void or have some knee-jerk reaction when you smelled pine for a first time?
Poekel: Actually I did sell trees again this year! My neighborhood has really come to depend on me being there. And I find it very rewarding as well.