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Talking to Jack Sanderson About “Becoming Santa”

December 19, 2011

By John C.

Jack Sanderson makes a snowflake at "Santa School" in the documentary Becoming Santa

One of my greatest memories from last May’s Hot Docs documentary film festival was meeting Jack Sanderson while standing in line waiting for a movie.  Sanderson is the writer and subject of the wonderful documentary Becoming Santa, where we watch as he has his beard bleached white and dons the iconic red suit.  Within a few minutes of talking to him, you immediately recognize someone who could perfectly embody the Christmas icon.

We reviewed Becoming Santa when it was released on DVD back in November and will be profiling the film yet again as part of our Christmas Countdown later this week.  As the big day is less than a week away, I recently caught up with Jack Sanderson through email to ask him about his experience working on the film and what message he would like to share with the world for December 25th.

There is a point in the documentary when we are unsure as to whether or not Jack Sanderson will continue working as Santa, so this was one of the first things that I had to ask him.  His answer?  “Well, I am working as Santa this season,” he said.  “I am currently in Hong Kong until Dec 27th.  Santa is universal, after all.  I’m going on a year by year basis, but I am not 24/7.”  His experience working in Los Angeles also helped to prepare him for his job as one of Santa’s many helpers.  “The time I spent working with children certainly helped,” he noted.  “I spent four years working with 4-8th graders for whom English was a second language, and I have 6 godchildren who I have spent a lot of time with and that probably helped.”

Sanderson “had the idea for years to make a documentary about the real history of Santa and the folks using him to keep the spirit of Christmas alive,” so director Jeff Myers “was there from the beginning.”  As he said, “I told Jeff about the idea and he liked it and we spent quite a while trying to find someone to follow through Santa School.  We couldn’t find anyone willing to do it.  My father died a week before Christmas and the next June I was already dreading the holiday.  I called Jeff and told him to bring his camera, I was going to get bleached and throw myself into the job of Santa for the season.  TV commercials start casting in July for the Christmas season.  I never booked a spot as Santa, but meeting the other Santa folk at the auditions was a great source of information.”

I also had to ask Sanderson a few questions for “Santa Jack.”  His “all time favourite” movie to watch for Christmas?  The 1970 musical Scrooge with Albert Finney, because it has “great music and a perfect rendering of that story.”  In terms of TV specials, he would go with such classics as A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as “the not often seen” Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  As for what Christmas music he likes listen to, the answers range from traditional carols like “Good King Wencelas” as well as more modern classics like “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and “of course a little Tchaikovsky.”

Documentaries tend to focus on negative issues or try and focus themselves on shedding light on the world’s problems.  The optimistic outlook of Becoming Santa is one of the things that makes the film so special, and it is just such a great true story.  The last thing I asked Jack Sanderson is what message he would like to share with the world for Christmas time, now that December 25th is almost here.  His answer says it all:  “Life is about other people, so be good to each other!”

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