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Interview with Larry Peter

Michael Rielly

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This week I sat down with Larry Peter, the director and producer of the upcoming Santa Claus documentary, They Wore The Red Suit. There is a lot going on with the film. Read on to learn more.

ClausNet: So Larry, what is the latest with the film?

Larry: The big news is we’re in our first film festival with, hopefully, many more to come. The Indianapolis International Film Festival is featuring the film in a prime screening on Sunday, July 14 at 4:30 PM in the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s grand Toby Theater.

There’s also a second screening Wednesday the 17th at 6:15 PM at the museum. Thanks to all of our supporters for helping us get this film completed and in front of theater audiences.

ClausNet: You have had a few private screenings of the film already. What has been the response to the film so far?

Larry: It feels very rewarding to see the responses we’re getting from our screening audiences. I couldn't get people to grasp this film’s importance while I was trying to get it made. Everyone expected a comedy, or some sort of “Bad Santa” clone.

The usual response was, "You’re doing a serious documentary on Santa Claus?" and "It’s an hour and a half long?"

I got no grant money, no investors, and my son and I finished the film driving around the country in a wrecked 2001 Sable. Now, it has the highest buzz rating of any documentary in the festival – and second highest buzz of all films combined.

ClausNet: Why was this movie so important to you?

Larry: Because my Santa, Jim Yellig, was very important to me; and I think Santa Claus is important to humanity. The more time I spent around Santas, the deeper I looked at why they have the effect they do.

And to get philosophical, I think Santa plays a very important spiritual role for mankind – and perhaps not in the way most people think of. As far back as you go in human history, you’ll always find a member of society – a king, a high priest, a medicine man – who, on special occasions, will take on aspects of the divine. Some people in modern Western society may take that kind of talk as blasphemy, but I feel humans have a basic need for a tangible representation of divine attributes. And every civilization has provided one.

The village shaman puts on the cloak of feathers and he is no longer the shaman. To everyone watching, adults and children, he’s now Father Sky. Virtually every society had an individual who would occasionally take on the role of a magical being who could hear requests from far away, watch over you, and reward the good with gifts. These customs strengthened their society’s spirituality – and that’s the reason I cringe when I hear certain groups claim that Santa is anti-religious. When he dons the Red Suit, he provides a tangible representation of the highest qualities we all wish to connect with.

ClausNet: What do I want viewers to take away from the film?

Larry: Mainly, I’d like them to understand the impact on society that Santas can have. Whether they’re “professional”, paid Santas or “community” Santas, like your grandfather, James Rielly, they have the ability to affect the lives of adults and children alike. And I’d like all the members of the Santa community to know this, as well. Whether you’re primarily taking photos in a mall, working a private party, or visiting hospitals, those few moments you spend in a visit can be moments that affect a life. As Phil Wenz points out in the film, Santa is virtually the only untarnished role model society has left.

Second, I’d like to see adults help their children make the transition from childhood belief in a healthier manner. Don’t tell your kids Santa isn't real. He’s just real in a different way, now.

ClausNet: Are there DVDs available?

Larry: That’s a tricky situation right now. While we’re in the film festivals, and trying to get distribution, we can’t offer our final product for sale. But rumor has it that at least one individual has several DVDs of our Bristol, RI pre-screener that he may be willing to part with. It’s not our “official” release, but has some extra info on James Rielly and a few other historic Santas, that isn’t in our final cut.

ClausNet: Ha! Thanks! My wife told me I need to get rid of this box of DVDs. If anyone reading this wants a copy, please contact me!

ClausNet: When will the film be available?

Larry: I can’t give a definite answer to that. We want to have the film seen in as many festivals as possible, and the next one we hope to be part of is an Oscar-qualifying event. A lot of film distributors and broadcasters will be paying attention. We have already received serious offers for distribution, even before this first festival screening, but I need to see how far we can take this. Not only do I want it available to the widest possible audience, but we have a lot of personal investment – as well as borrowed money – in this film that we have to try to recoup.

ClausNet: What can Santas do to help?

Larry: At this moment, if you can make it to the Indianapolis International Film Festival, please do. Tickets for the screenings are just $10, and a large group of Santas would just make the event more magical. And tell all your non-Santa friends about it as well. Events like these can show networks and film distributors that this film has appeal to a broad audience.

ClausNet: What’s next?

Larry: I don’t think I’ll ever be involved in another project that will bring me as much joy as the last two years have. My crew would complain at the end of a day of shooting that their faces hurt from smiling so much. My personal life goal is to use my passion for film making to raise the consciousness of the planet. I want to Educate, Entertain and Enlighten. I only hope I can find more projects that match my goal as well as this film did. I have such admiration for Santa’s work. Keep it up. We all need it.

ClausNet: Thank you Larry!

To learn more about They Wore The Red Suit, please visit www.thesantamovie.com


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