There’s a new Christmas movie bringing queer merriment to the indie film circuit worldwide.
Created by a 100% LGBTQIA+-identifying cast and crew, Remember It’s Christmas is packing houses and winning awards in multiple categories, including for its writer/director, Sam Kite. It also happens to include a bear-studded cast led by Tim Hooper (Where the Bears Are, BearCity) and features three-time Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Latrice Royale, and Adam Rose.
The film was shot on location in Los Angeles and is currently screening at film fests across the globe. We chatted recently with its creator, writer/director Sam Kite. Originally from Texas and now based in L.A., Sam has produced feature films, short films, and new media content that has been programmed in premiere film festivals such as Outfest, Newfest, and Frameline, as well as distributed by The Nerdist Channel, LOGO, and Funny or Die. An ad copywriter by trade, he has also written for publications such as The Huffington Post, and writes, directs and co-produces Kevin Chamberlin’s TikTok channel, which boasts over 10 million subscribers.
Sam spoke with us about his inspiration for the film, his connection to Christmas movies, representation, and his mentor, the late Doug Langway (creator of the BearCity trilogy).
BEAR WORLD MAGAZINE: Sounds like you had a lot of motivation in making this film. What would you say was the main impetus behind it? Was it to create a Christmas movie for the LGBTQIA+ community? To chronicle a personal experience? To give bears more positive screen time?
SAM KITE: For many years my partner, who is the lead actor in the film (Tim Hooper from the BearCity trilogy and Where the Bears Are), has played Santa Claus at private parties, and many of the children he meets have asked him for truly unexpected gifts, such as “getting their parents back together,” or “making mommy’s cancer go away,” which is heartbreaking. Taking that notion, I wanted to flip the narrative, and examine a more positive, affirming, inclusive perspective, specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community.
What if a little boy asked Santa to get another little boy to like him? How would Santa’s response, positive or negative, affect this child for the rest of his life? And what if in this moment, Santa used his own personal experiences to usher this young person onto an affirming path of self-discovery?
Remember It’s Christmas is a bittersweet reflection of both the joy and sadness that accompany the holiday season. It reflects on the sacrifices that come from lifelong commitments, and the uncertainty of emerging new feelings, while also acting as a reminder to be yourself, live your truth, and to always cherish every special moment you have with those you love. The film also lightly deals with dementia/sundowning/cognitive disabilities, examining the hardships one must face to care for others, especially those with declining health.
The film stars several “bears,” many of whom are my personal friends, who graciously donated their time, and their amazing Santa-like appearances, in some of my favorite scenes to shoot. I have always wanted to showcase people of all shapes and sizes as fully fleshed-out, real, relatable people, not just supporting side characters or fat jokes.
BWM: One of the cool fun facts of this film is that you had a 100% LGBTQIA+ crew. Was that hard to achieve? Were there any particular jobs it was more challenging to find a community member to fit?
SK: I definitely learned a lot [laughs]. I have produced multiple films that have appeared at many festivals worldwide (BearCity 3, Cock ‘N Bull 2 and 3, Annie Minerals, The Rainbow Dung Beetle), but this was my first as writer/director and I wanted to “put my money where my mouth is.” If I was going to hire other filmmakers and crew members to help me make this dream come true, I wanted to make sure I offered opportunities to as many people from the LGBTQIA+ community as I could.
I think the most challenging roles to fill were the gaffer and grip positions. Those fields are so heavily dominated by straight guys, but we were thrilled and lucky to have found amazing LGBTQIA+ pros to fill those positions.
But really, most of this film was a labor of love between me and my closest friends and chosen family. Tim Hooper, the lead actor, is my partner of 16 years. My executive producer/one of the co-stars from the film is my bestie Adam Rose, who I wouldn’t have been able to do this without. The DP is my close personal friend Gabriel Salazar. My co-producer Joel Sinderman is a friend I worked with on Where the Bears Are. The delicious catering and meals were all homemade by my buddy Joseph Kirkland. My friend Jerry Wolfe wrote an original song for the opening credits. Many of the actors like Kevin Chamberlin and Garrett Clayton are also friends I asked to come be in my little school play over a weekend. Even Alex Di Dio and Greg Gunter from the BearCity movies make small cameos. Almost everyone involved was someone in my life who was gracious enough to be a part of it. The rest of the folks we were thrilled and very fortunate to hire.
BWM: Are you a longtime fan of Christmas movies, or was it more just the right setting for this story? If you had to pick a favorite Christmas movie, what would it be?
SK: I’ve always loved Santa, I mean who could blame me? He’s the best… and so damn cute. So yes, I have always been a big fan of Christmas movies, and there is a severe lack of LGBTQIA+ representation in those. I really wanted to add some of our stories and our perspectives to the genre. Also, my dear friend Doug Langway, writer/director of the Bear City movies, was OBSESSED with Christmas and would always say to me, “Sammy, if you ever make a movie, make it a Christmas movie. They’ll replay it every year forever.” That really stuck with me.
My favorite Christmas movie would have to be Miracle on 34th Street (the 1994 remake) — it even makes an appearance in this film. I was lucky enough to secure the rights from Disney, so I couldn’t help myself.
BWM: The screening in L.A. at the Tarzana Film Fest was packed. Have you felt good about audience reception overall? Is it true the film won an award at another festival?
SK: I can’t even begin to describe how emotional the screenings have made me. I have made so many close friends and lovers in this community across the world, and so many of them are showing up with all of their friends and families, filling these theaters with bears and their admirers, and even selling them out. We’ve also been accepted to tons of “straight” film festivals, and we’ve sold out shows to little old ladies in Florida. To see so many loved ones AND strangers laugh, or cry, moves me to no end. It is extremely rewarding, and I appreciate all of the wonderful responses so far. We’ve even won a few awards (Best LGBTQ Short, Best Director, Best Short).
BWM: The film is dedicated to Doug Langway (RIP), creator of the BearCity movies. Can you talk a little about your connection to him and how he influenced you?
SK: Doug was my best friend for 15 years. Literally the first day I moved to NYC when I was 25 years old, I was cast in the first BearCity film as an extra. Doug and I struck up a very deep and meaningful friendship throughout the years, and I was hired to work on BearCity 2, along with my partner, Tim. After working together so closely, Doug ultimately made me a producer on his third and final film, BearCity 3. Doug fully kickstarted my journey as a filmmaker and was the closest thing I have ever had to a mentor, let alone a best friend. I miss him every single day.
I knew my first film was going to not only be dedicated to him, it was also going to envelope the spirit he put out into the world. Much like the BearCity films, these stories come from our real lives. I know in my heart Remember It’s Christmas is the kind of film Doug would’ve been very proud of. Several of the background and cameo actors in the film also come from the BearCity films, from our little family that he built. I shed a tear every single time I see his name at the end of the movie. It’s not only a reminder for us to remember the joy of Christmas spirit, it’s also to remember Doug, and the joy he brought to the world.
BWM: Between three-time Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin and Drag Race superstar Latrice Royale, you have some very accomplished talent in this film. Did that make you feel extra pressure to ensure the final product would be great?
SK: It’s definitely daunting to have such huge pros in your first film as director, but I chose them because of their insane talent, which was present from start to finish. I couldn’t be prouder of both Latrice and Kevin, who both gave stellar, insightful, and scene-stealing performances.
Kevin is a close personal friend. I actually write/direct/produce most of his TikToks to around 10.2 million of his followers, so I am used to that kind of pressure [laughs] — But Latrice was someone I had never worked with, and I was definitely a ball of nerves anticipating that day of production. Luckily Latrice came in like an immaculate professional, showing up to set early, being willing and down for anything, super polite and engaging and hilarious. We completely chose the right person for the job, and I am now fortunate to also consider Latrice a friend as well.
BWM: Did you have any fun or funny happenings on set you can share?
SK: The Santa’s Workshop School scene is my favorite scene from the film. Corralling 30-something Santa bears, with which we tried to reflect the colorful diversity of Los Angeles, and cramming them into a public community center that was giving vaccines out ’til the very last minute was insane and I can’t believe we pulled it off. We had to transform the space into a Christmas wonderland in an hour, shoot into the late hours of the night, and it was intense pressure on time to get out of there.
Meanwhile all of my background talent has to sit around and wait for a few hours. Luckily they are all personal friends who happened to look like or resemble Santa, some of them had even flown in from out of state just to be a part of my film, and it was a grueling long night that went all the way into 3 a.m. Not one of them complained. Ever. Not once. They were all smiles and happy to be there. That was a Christmas miracle in itself.
BWM: What would you ultimately like your viewers to take away from Remember It’s Christmas?
I really wanted to share my vision of Christmas magic with our community, focusing on a narrative of affirmation and positivity. When our hero, “Santa,” falls out of love with Christmas, he is reminded to embrace the spirit of the holiday — because he must face his own life’s struggles before he figures out the advice he must give this young person before him. You can’t lead them down a road of false expectations, but you also can’t shatter their hopes or dreams, so you ultimately must encourage them to be themselves, and not to worry whether anyone approves of you or not.
That’s a true Christmas miracle. When you can accept yourself and be yourself and really appreciate what you have.
BWM: What is next for the film?
SK: We are just halfway into our film festival cycle, which will run through to July 2024. We will be in the only Christmas movie festival in the world, in Berlin, Weihnachtsfilmfestival this year on December 21. We are also working on finding a distributor to get the film on streaming services hopefully by next Christmas.
BWM: Anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t cover?
SK: The final song that plays during the credits, appropriately titled “Remember It’s Christmas,” is also an original song I co-wrote with Kevin Chamberlin and is sung by Berritt Haynes from The Voice. So, stay through the credits. I’ve always loved a movie stinger, and there is a special one at the very end.