Tommy Avallone’s feature documentary, I Am Santa Claus, takes a look at the lives of a small group of men who annually take on the role of Santa Claus. Instead of just focusing on the holiday season, however, the film follows its subjects over the course of a year, seeing what it’s like for Santa when he’s not in season.
What you learn is that life for Santa is a lot like life for any of us. Santa Russell has financial and personal problems plaguing him, making life tough in general. Santa Jim works in an antiques store, dreaming of a time when he and his long-distance boyfriend can finally be together year-round. Santa Frank has overcome his anger issues and left his old life behind, so much so that he legally changes his name to Santa Claus (which means maybe I should’ve referred to him as just Santa). Santa Bob has the beard for the job, but lives a healthier lifestyle (no tummy like a bowl full of jelly for him). And finally there’s Santa Mick, who just so happens to be world famous wrestler Mick Foley, who adores Christmas and Santa Claus, and is faced with the challenge of whether he can really pull off being Santa Claus considering how recognizable he is.
While the above subjects’ stories make up the meat of the film, that doesn’t mean we aren’t treated to all manners of other Santa Claus-related strangeness. Did you know there is a Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, or that there are people who teach others how to become Santa Claus, so they can earn their own Bachelor’s Degrees in SantaClausology? All news to me, all very entertaining.
Of course, beyond just the entertainment factor, the film does look at the philosophical and emotional levels that come along with taking on the role of Santa Claus. There’s what the gig means to those who do it, and those who enjoy it. There’s the spirit of the holidays, the tradition and the often redemptive power of assuming an identity that’s all about spreading good will. It’s deeper than just giggling at some of the sillier elements of the film.
On a technical level, the film is quite polished. It looks and sounds great and the edit doesn’t drag its feet or wander into any dead ends. Beyond the traditional talking head elements you see in many a documentary, the film also goes that extra mile to get you in the mood for the subject matter with other, unique touches, such as the stop-motion animated sequences that remind the viewer of the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials.
Overall, regardless of why you may be drawn to check out I Am Santa Claus, I think the filmmakers delivered a quality experience. You get to see behind the curtain, as it were, on the diverse lives of the people who take on the role of Santa Claus, and explore their varied reasons for doing so. Some of what you learn is funny, some is sad, some is uplifting; while certain elements are inherent in any seasonal gig, there’s something about taking on the persona of Santa Claus that endures year-round (and not necessarily just the beard and belly, though those tend to stick around too); the spirit of Santa Claus carrying those who take up the mantle through the good times and bad.