“East is east and West is west, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling once wrote. But in Christmas in the Clouds, East and West did come together, getting the film—a romantic comedy of mistaken identities set at a resort in Indian country with Native Americans playing nearly all the roles—through postproduction and into movie theaters in time for the 2005 holiday season.At two key junctures, Christmas received crucial backing: The first was from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, a tribe from northeastern Wisconsin; in the second, Majestic Films, an entertainment company from India headquartered in Chenai, formerly known as Madras, provided assistance.Christmas, written and directed by Kate Montgomery, traveled a long and circuitous road. It began six years ago when it was shot at Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort in Utah, only the second movie ever allowed to be filmed there by the actor-director. (The first was his own Jeremiah Johnson.) The Sundance expanse is Park City, locus for the famed indie film festival. Christmas, in a director’s cut, premiered at the 2001 Sundance Festival and was warmly received.But to get there in the first place required a financial assist from the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. “When we wrapped the shoot for the film, I was told that we had run out of money,” recalled Montgomery, “and without more funds we couldn’t get it in shape to show at festivals.” One of the film’s stars, Sheila Tousey, knew the president of the tribe. According to Montgomery: “He saw a rough cut of the movie, and then got up in front of the tribal council to urge them to put up some money to get it completed. ‘You don’t have to help this movie,’ he told them. ‘But if you don’t, I want all complaining to cease about the stereotyping of Native Americans in entertainment, because you failed to help a film that fights those stereotypes.”Christmas traveled the fest circuit for 18 months, winning kudos at the Austin and Santa Fe film festivals, and warm receptions elsewhere. But distributors remained uninterested in what was still an unfinished film—and one lacking a final score. So the film went back on the shelves, where its prospects looked dim.Last spring serendipity struck, providing the bankroll to give the film the required finishing touches in postproduction. Sarah Wasserman, who had been a production assistant on the movie, wound up working in Los Angeles for Majestic Films, which was on the lookout for projects they could back. She is now listed as one of the film’s producers. “Sarah always loved this movie and wanted to help make it happen,” said the film’s writer-director, who had all but given up on getting the film distributed. “She knew our film was on the shelf, and that a good deal could be cut with the people in control of it. We screened the film for the people at Majestic. And their response was, “My goodness, this is a great movie.”Post was done at Warner Bros., and Deluxe did the color timing and the prints. The film got its own soundtrack and went through final editing. Veteran editor Maysie Hoy, known for her work on The Joy Luck Club, had done the lion’s share of the cutting. “I came on and helped shape it and draw out the comedy,” said Hoy. Editor Mary Ann Skweres, a veteran of many independent film projects, who assisted Hoy and did the final fine edit, said postproduction went well because “some very established companies and people generously stepped up to help us finish with a high-quality job on our limited budget.”Majestic and Slowhand Films are distributing the film, which opens across the country on December 2. Slowhand president is Marty Zeidman, formerly head of distribution at Miramax. Christmas opened at the start of November in California, with Majestic contributing 100 percent of its box office profit to California public schools, part of an overall campaign to use the film to raise money for public education across the country.The best-known actor in the film is Graham Greene, who plays a vegetarian chef at the resort thrown into a tizzy when he’s forced to cook meat dishes because a food critic who will rate the restaurant is expected. Greene was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves. Veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh portrays the food critic. The romantic leads are newcomers Tim Vahle and Mariana Tosca.
Written by Jack Egan