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2011 Heartland Film FestivalRating: 3.5 of 5 yaps

Becoming Santa

“Santa” follows Jack Sanderson, who, upon finding a photo of his father dressed as Santa, decides to become a Santa for a holiday season, fully immersing himself in the culture.

He starts by growing out his beard and bleaching it white, buys a suit, and he’s ready, right?

Wrong. He goes to Santa School — a fully immersive subculture of mall, sidewalk, and department store Santas — and gets a full crash course on how to be jolly old St. Nick.

And he finds it’s not as easy as sitting on your duff and handing out candy canes. Jack and the other Santas fend off difficult questions from children (in a test session, their teacher, as a child, asks Santa to find and kill Osama bin Laden, among other things), and learn the rules of being Santa — including that Santas cannot call children “kids,” have nonthreatening, easy, but vague answers to any question they’re asked, and can “ho” only three times.

There are some interesting historical tidbits about the origins of Santa and how he came to be such a cultural icon throughout western civilization, as well as the various benevolent (and not so nice) versions of Santa throughout the world — including the interesting (and racially incendiary) story of Black Peter, whom, in some civilizations, is Santa’s more sinister sidekick who punishes the bad children while Santa rewards the good ones.

An interesting side note to this film is that there is never any talk of Santa’s authenticity. We get the occasional tidbit about “believing” in Santa, but that’s as close as we get to dealing with that little roasting chestnut.

“Becoming Santa” isn’t a hard-hitting social justice documentary, but it’s a fun change of pace to much of Heartland’s more serious content. It will certainly lift your spirits and make you appreciate the plight and the life of Santas all over the world.

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