A Christmas Snow is a touching film set at Christmas time. Catherine Mary Stewart plays a woman still in deep pain over her father’s abandonment of the family one Christmas when she was a little girl. She ends up snowed in with a motherless young girl and a homeless man with a secret (Muse Watson). Tracy Trost, the film’s writer/director, answered my questions about the movie’s themes and the importance of inspiring stories for families.
What is the hardest part of forgiveness?
I think for most people the thought of forgiving another can many times make them feel like they are lost. It’s almost as if there is a standoff and if you extend forgiveness, the person you are forgiving will win and you will lose. The truth of the matter is that forgiveness leads to peace in one’s life. If you carry around unforgiveness and hold in bitterness it becomes a way of life and you start to look for the bad in any situation and you close yourself off from others. In doing so you really limit who you could be, or who you should be. For me the hardest part of forgiveness is taking the chance that you might get hurt again. But without taking those chances you never really learn how to live life to its fullest.
Why was the story of Simeon so important to Sam?
Simeon did not see the Christ child until his last days. His faith carried him up until that point and once he saw the child his life was complete and he was willing to leave this Earth and be with his Creator. In many ways Sam was the same. He went through life not knowing the truth and in his last days he saw his Savior. At that point he came to a sense of Peace. Being able to share this story with his daughter was the same as looking into the babies eyes. Once he did that he was ready to go.
How did having to return to the pleasures of a simpler time affect the characters in the movie?
In today’s world we have filled our lives with so many things that we do not have a moment to reflect. As a child I only had 5 TV channels to choose from and we did not have the internet or cell phones. Life was much simpler then and you spent more time together as a family. Just being together and working on crafts or talking. When the snow storm hits they are forced into a situation where they do not have all of the gadgets to take up their time and occupy their thoughts. They are forced to communicate as people and in doing so they are able to work through some issues that they were dealing with. Without going back to the simpler way of life they would have abided their time together and then split up and gone on with their lives. I think it is a good practice for all of us to turn off all of the electronics and communicate on a regular basis.
Were s’mores and “Break the Ice” taken from your own childhood memories? Do they have symbolic value in the story?
Yes, both were a part of my childhood. I wouldn’t say they were symbolic other than triggers to memories of the past for our characters.
How did you find Cameron ten Napel and what was it that made you realize she was right for the part?
We did casting calls in several cities and online. The Casting Directors had set up a session in Dallas for me. Over all through the entire process I think I saw about 200 kids. When we did the session in Dallas on a Saturday I think we saw about 40 kids. Cameron was the 5th or 6th kid I saw. I knew there was something special about her from the moment I met her. She could pop in and out of character with little effort. She took direction and applied it without blinking an eye. After my session with her I found myself comparing every other actor to her. She is an extreme talent and I know she will be a household name in no time. I consider myself a better person knowing her and her family.
Why is it important to have spiritual themes in movies?
I think movies are the most influential form of communication in today’s world. People love movies. They love to escape reality for a while and get lost in a story. I have no issues with those who make movies for the sake of entertainment only. For me, there has to be more to it. I believe if I have your attention for an hour and a half I have a responsibility to leave you with something that is of value. Something that you can apply to your life and hopefully learn and grow from. My movies have a purpose to them other than entertainment. It is the purpose to affect those who watch them in a positive way. My goal would be that those who watch one of my movies would see life just a little bit differently afterwards. That they might want to make a change in their life that would bring a positive outcome. I love telling stories. I love touching people’s hearts. I love introducing people to a different way of thinking.
What are the stories that have most inspired you?
For me I love to read about people who overcome. People that have had something happen to them where others would write them off and then they invent something or do something that changes the world around them. Seeing the human spirit rise above circumstances and overcoming obstacles is what it is all about for me. I love to read about history and see how the small acts of everyday people can change the world. We all have the ability within us to make a difference. The question is will we do it.
What do you want families to know about this movie?
At Trost Moving Pictures we take family seriously, which is why we say we are, “Putting the Family Back In Family Movies.” This movie will entertain and inspire people of all ages. I have gotten letters from 6 year olds as well as 80 year olds. “A Christmas Snow” is one of those stories that people can relate to and enjoy watching. It also inspires you to be more than you are and be willing to take a chance on letting go of a past hurt and forgiving. Forgiveness is the key to peace in life. “A Christmas Snow” shows how this is true. If you are open, it can show you how to change your life for the better.
It was an honor to have a chance to interview Edward Norton at the American Film Institute following a screening of his new film, “Stone.” This photo is copyright Bruce Guthrie, who was kind enough to give me permission to share it here. All rights are reserved.
Randall Wallace, seminarian-turned-film-maker, knows how to raise the spirits and fill the hearts of the audience. In “Braveheart” and “We Were Soldiers,” he gave us some of the most inspiring screen heroes of our time. And now, as director of “Secretariat,” he takes one of the greatest 20th century stories of faith, determination, and unmatched achievement with the saga of the Triple Crown champion owned by a self-described “housewife” named Penny Tweedy who won him on a coin toss.
What makes a champion?
The victory occurs inside the champion before it occurs outside the champion. The task before the story-teller is to inspire and you can’t do that unless you are inspired. You have to change the story until it inspires you, until you have to shout it from the rooftops. Every warrior wants a battle worth his blood and Penny found that for herself. That’s what I love about being a story-teller, finding those defining moments. There are stories I heard as a child about a deceased ancestor that told me everything I needed to know about who they were and who I was supposed to be. That’s what you look for in a story. In this one, Penny not only declares who she is, she discovers who she is. Everything logical around her was saying, “You must do this” and she said, “No, I will do that.” It gave me goosebumps!
It is such fun to get a glimpse of the real Penny in the film.
She’s one of the people I not only admire the most but am most captivated by. She is really striking and uplifting. You can’t take your eyes off her. She’s magic. And she puts up with no nonsense. She’ll tell you exactly the way it is. Part of her was, “If this is done, I want to be around to see it, and have my say.” What she told me is that the right people finally came along and were willing to put the money into it to make it right.
I was very happy to see such a terrific movie with a family-friendly PG rating.
“Family movie” sometimes means mediocre. But this is a story that will speak to a person of any age or gender and confront you with the power and excitement and force you to consider what courage means. I found myself writing in my own journal “Belief is a stronger word than no.”
There’s a prevalent attitude in movie-making, politics, religion, education, certainly in entertainment that’s a sort of contempt for the audience. So many movies by the approach they choose to have indicate a lack of faith in the audience and assume they are attention-deficient. No they’re not! They’re craving something that matters, and you’re not giving it to them. When you just turn up the volume and substitute noise for excitement, you are admitting defeat and you’ve broken the covenant.
How did you make the film exciting when you had to show so many different races, all with the outcomes already known?
That is exactly what the challenge was. The audience says “I’m here, show me.” We can’t show them the same events from the same perspective over and over. I had to structure the architecture of the events. The first race is a build-up and we cut away from the moment to a freeze-frame. The next is the first time we’ve ever seen him run and he is so far behind and then he wins. Then there was the one that was 1000 frames a second as the horse has all four of his legs off the ground at once. That shot replaced a whole montage sequence. It’s far more fascinating to see it articulated in this way. That stood for six different victories. And then the Derby and the Belmont each had their own structure. The Derby we build up forever, slower and slower, and then there’s the silence which is in a way the loudest moment in the movie. And then the Belmont was going to go the other way, slow leading up to the race and then boom, what’s he doing?
You took a risk showing one race from the perspective of the people watching at home on television.
The Preakness was problematic. How is it going to look different? I had two enormous advantages. I had the actual footage which looked good. But the greater one to me was that the story was screaming for an answer to the question about the family. In the beginning, Penny makes a choice that seems to be moving away from family. Her family was there; she was somewhere else. And as a person who’s gotten on a family knowing I would not see my family for months. On my first film, I kissed them goodbye as they were sleeping at 4:30 and then again after they were in bed asleep at night. I only saw them asleep for months.
The pull you feel to show my sons as hard as it is for me and for them that a man takes care of business. I am loving them and that is defined by how I do it, not what I do but why I do. The most powerful thing I could show is what the family is feeling at home when they are watching this, to see her husband “as if the scales have fallen from his eyes.” And I got to show that in a scene that was about a horse race.
What do you look for in your projects?
People want to work on a movie that matters. And they look to the director. The speech I gave everybody was this: I’ve seen all your resumes and there are might be five films, there might be fifty. But the ones that stand out, the movies like “Chariots of Fire” or “Dances with Wolves,” this is one of those. We had a limited budget but what we did not lack was passion and imagination. We had the finest people in the world working on this film because it mattered to them.
What makes the story of Secretariat so captivating?
The story, ultimately, is about transcendence, about going beyond what anyone thought was possible, even the horse. His commitment to run that fast, and it was his choice, was what made it possible, and also what made it dangerous. He was running not against the horses in the race, but about every horse who ever ran, and then, after he rounded that corner, for the glory.
Today is the United Nations’ World Habitat Day, dedicated to the principle that affordable, adequate housing should be a priority everywhere. Take a moment today to be grateful for your home, for the warmth and comfort it provides for you and your family. Talk about ways you can help others in your community or elsewhere to ensure adequate shelter. And make time for one or more of these movies about what home means:
1. A Home of our Own Kathy Bates plays an indomitable mother of five who builds a home for her family despite enormous obstacles and difficulties.
2. Places in the Heart Sally Field won an Oscar for this fact-based portrayal of a Depression-era widow who will do whatever is necessary to keep her home.
3. The Wizard of Oz Dorothy learns that there’s no place like home and that even a technicolor land filled with magic cannot compare to a small farmhouse in Kansas.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life George and Mary Bailey (James Stewart and Donna Reed) take a ramshackle abandoned house and make it into a home. The newel post may not stay on the banister but everyone in the Bailey household feels safe and secure and George, whose profession is in helping others to be able to afford a home, learns how lucky he is.
5. Annie A plucky little orphan girl and a wealthy industrialist both learn that it takes more than a house to make a home in this tuneful family treat.