Is it me, or are we all about to lose our final grip on the true meaning of Christmas? Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, the freakin’ birth of Jesus? Maybe now is a good time to alleviate some of that superhero fatigue and put on the 1994 indie Christmas classic from Jerry Vasilatos, Solstice.
Set in Chicago on Christmas Eve, our hero Nick (Mike Kelley), is a beaten and broken man. This budding director is stuck in a go-nowhere job as an ad copywriter. Having recently been left by his girlfriend, Kristine (Mary McCloud), the last place he wants to be is with his family, particularly his mother.
As Nick arrives home from work, he’s intercepted by Kristine. She is upset that he is trying to rekindle their romance and returns his overly sentimental gifts. This isn’t the way Nick wants to start the holiday. So the hopeless guy goes for a walk down the wintery streets of Chicago encountering some pre-ordained Christmas moments. These include a homeless woman needing a bit of cash, a girl looking out the window wondering if Santa will come this year, and an old arthouse theater playing It’s a Wonderful Life after a Christmas sing-along. But is this enough for Nick to discover the true meaning of Christmas?
“…goes for a walk down the wintery streets of Chicago encountering some pre-ordained Christmas moments.”
Solstice can best be described as a feel-good Christmas story from the 90s. The clothes and hairstyle are the big tip-offs. Yet, this simple story of the Christmas spirit also defines the true spirit of independent filmmaking. Just like his lead character, writer/director Vasilatos dreamed of making movies. After a horrible accident, he put his settlement into the film’s production. His script of Christmas cheer inspired his cast and crew. In the true spirit of guerilla cinema, they made the film fast and on a shoestring budget.
Miraculously, the heartwarming message caught the attention of the programmers at the Lifetime network, where the film ran for many years during the holidays. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Vasilatos was able to convert the original 16mm film print into 2K digital and then went into the painstaking frame-by-frame process of cleaning up and restoring his film.
Storywise, let’s face it. These are tough times we’re living in. Cynicism toward anything good or positive is fodder for the internet’s algorithm. Solstice may be a little too on-the-nose with a spoonful of sap with its Christmas cheer and optimism, but maybe it’s exactly what we need during this post-Covid Christmas season.
For screening information, visit the Solstice official website.
"…it's exactly what we need during this post-Covid Christmas season."