Tag Archives: Dana Nachman

Secret Santa

Dear Santa

by Rachel Willis

Director Dana Nachman’s feature documentary, Dear Santa, is delightful.

Highlighting the 100-year-old United States Postal Service program, Operation Santa, the film captures the spirit of the season as ‘adopter elves’ make Christmas special for children and families across the United States.

When children post their letters to Santa every year, USPS makes those letters – hundreds of thousands of them – available to the public to ‘adopt.’ This is a chance for individuals, families, schools, and non-profit organizations to read through the letters, select one (or several), and do what they can to fulfill the wishes of the children penning them.

Starting three weeks from Christmas and working forward to the big day, we see how the letters move through the system – starting with the children writing them, to their delivery to the postal service, then on to the adopter elves. Two locations in the US – Chicago and New York – allow the adopters to physically read through the letters, while the rest are available online for those around the country who want to participate.

Nachman (Pick of the Litter) interviews several ‘elves’ in the postal service who work with Santa to read, sort, and deliver the letters received every year. She also follows several adopter elves who help Santa distribute gifts to ‘nice’ children across the country. Then, there are the children themselves, so eager to have their deepest wants and desires met by Santa. One child is particularly keen on receiving a moose for Christmas.

Interspersed throughout is a highlight reel of kids of all ages talking about Santa, who he is, what he does, where he lives, and it’s charming to watch the children explain what makes Santa so special.

This is a family-oriented treat, with the filmmakers and ‘elves’ doing their best to keep the Santa myth alive for any believers. However, older kids who might be starting to question whether the man with the bag is ‘real’, might see through the illusion. Some of those interviewed are more convincing than others when it comes to their work with Santa.

The film is an ode to the United States Postal Service, the hard work they do each year to make Operation Santa a success, as well as to the adopters who make it possible for children to have the merriest of Christmases.

If you’re feeling Grinchy this Christmas, Dear Santa might be just what you need to remember what makes the season so special.

Guiding Light

Pick of the Litter

by Brandon Thomas

Whether it’s true or not, dogs make us feel like their sole purpose in life is to fill us full of happiness. Dancing at the front door when you come home from work… a sneak attack of kisses that always ends with you in a fit of giggles…nice long naps together on the couch. More than just making us feel good, dogs can serve a greater purpose in the lives of people with visual impairments. That journey to find this purpose is where Pick of the Litter takes us.

The documentary opens with the birth of Labrador pups Patriot, Potomac, Phil, Primrose and Poppet. They are the newest arrivals on the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and their training will start on only their second day of life. The training to become a guide dog isn’t easy; out of the 800 dogs born there each year, only 300 become actual guides. The process is time-consuming, strict and unemotional… but it’s never, ever boring.

Directors Don Hardy, Jr. and Dana Nachman give us plenty of cute puppy footage, but never shy away from the seriousness of what a guide dog will end up doing. Bonds immediately form between the puppies and their “raisers,” who will work to socialize them. They can be quickly pulled away from those same raisers if it’s felt that the dogs can benefit more from being in another home. It’s that pull between emotion and dedication that gives Pick of the Litter its ultimate strength.

The urge to root for these pups is there from the beginning. Pick of the Litter doesn’t get too clinical in its approach to the dogs. We’re allowed to get to know them and pick out those distinct personalities. It also stings when one of them isn’t able to make the cut.

The stories of the people involved are just as important. The frustration felt by the trainers when the dogs don’t pass is palpable. Of course, the end game is for these dogs to end up with someone who will rely on them as their guides. Those stories are thankfully not lost, and give the audience that light at the end of the tunnel for our pup stars.

It’s easy to forget that dogs can do more than fetch, roll over and shake. They can give some people their independence back.

Man’s best friend, indeed.