Apple TV + goes into winter time with this documentary which tells us about an incredible news item under the sign of Christmas. Meeting with its director Becky Read.
AlloCiné: Where did the idea for La Bataille de Noël come from, a totally crazy and atypical documentary?
Becky Read: I live in England and remember reading an article in a national newspaper about this incident that took place in America, in the state of Idaho. It was a senseless legal battle between a lawyer, Jeremy Morris, and his neighborhood who sued him for disturbing the streets and the nightly commotion.
Indeed, Jeremy, who is a Christmas enthusiast, set out to create the most gigantic Christmas street party ever imagined. This had led to huge traffic jams in the neighborhood where he lives and an unparalleled chaos of sounds and lights. I immediately thought that this could make a surprising, surreal documentary. It’s a movie with universal themes that can distract you while still making you think.
Exactly, what does this documentary make us think about?
I think this makes us reflect on the unique notion that each has of the truth. Your version of the truth is not necessarily the same as mine, and vice versa. It is a film which also deals with the notion of tolerance in society, of pluralism. It shows how the law can be interpreted one way or the other.
And as Jeremy is an outstanding lawyer he gave and always gives a bad quarter of an hour to his “adversaries”, the community in which he lives with his family. I think this situation can be understood, whether you live in the USA or elsewhere in the world. We have all been faced with “troublesome” neighbors.
This story is so rich and unfolded over several years, was there not the temptation to make a fiction instead of a documentary… moreover, is it not rather a drama? documentary?
Yes, it was not easy to make this “documentary drama”. I really wanted to immerse the spectator in the heart of this incredible fight. We had quite a few archive footage, but we didn’t have everything we needed. Especially since everything took place over six long years with so many twists and turns.
The advantage is that most of the plot takes place in a single district and that today all the protagonists are still present there. With Jeremy and his family, the process was pretty straightforward. But we had to show perseverance with the various neighbors around it.
Many hesitated before giving us the interviews and cutaways needed to edit the documentary. Which is understandable because they did not want to fall back into possible legal action again. I had to create moments of intensity when the bulk of the drama was already written in their past.
Not to mention that we filmed in the midst of the Covid crisis, which necessarily limited our freedom of filming. But everyone played along and I think the film is most authentic. At least I didn’t have to recreate big explosions or big action scenes, or shoot all over America. Apart from the use of a drone to visualize the neighborhood from above, I did not need complicated filming equipment and a large team of technicians.
This film comes at the right time since the Christmas holidays are almost here. At the same time, to what extent do you think this film can be a mirror of what is happening in our society, Christmas party or not?
I think we just stopped all communication between us, between neighbors, between communities. We don’t really talk to each other anymore. It’s scary. We also go straight to the conclusion to judge someone before we even listen to them. With the internet we can know everything about everyone and we can get a totally wrong idea.
You can even comment on that person anonymously. Under Trump, there were truly two Americas divided more than ever. I didn’t want to dwell on this angle with our film, but it’s still in the background. It’s a movie that shows that we should be able to have different opinions and be civil to each other. But this is not the case as we can see with our documentary.
What is the moral, the message of your film?
It is above all a message of tolerance in a world which has forgotten what it means. I think you have to learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes to try to see and understand their version of the truth, of reality. We have to keep the dialogue and find a compromise in order to be able to live “together” or at least, to live side by side; and not to let the situation degenerate and turn into a drama like in our film. This is the question my film asks: that of sharing. How can we share an office, a street, a neighborhood, etc…? The key to all of this is tolerance and coexistence.