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Ottawa, new setting for American Christmas films

  • June 6, 2024
  • 7 Min
  • 3
ottawa,-new-setting-for-american-christmas-films

The snow has disappeared in the streets of Ottawa but neither the mistletoe nor the fir trees: in spring, filming takes place in the Canadian capital, where a third of the Christmas films screened each year in North America are made.

Tax incentives, settings reminiscent of small American towns or large ones: Ottawa attracts a dozen productions each year.

The success of these Christmas films has exploded in recent years, in a context marked by the pandemic and conflicts in the world, according to Sandrine Pechels de Saint Sardos, commissioner of the Ottawa film office.

“People wanted things that made them feel good. And that’s what Christmas movies are for. It’s escapism, comforting content”estimates this expert, adding that they “allows families to come together in gentle, violence-free moments”.

In the greater Ottawa suburb of Almonte, on a sunny spring day, the snow is out, as are the Santas outside the cafes on the main street. We shoot there « Hocus Pocus Christmas ».

Cotton snow

“Here it looks like a small American town, like the one where I grew up in Pennsylvania”says American director Marita Grabiak.

“The main story is always about a man and a woman who fall in love or who become great friends”, adds this professional who has been touring in the region for six years. The plot takes place in small towns for the values ​​they convey: simplicity, hard work and mutual aid.

Filming in winter during a blizzard can result in “absolutely magnificent scenes”, she enthuses, behind her sunglasses. But extreme cold damages film equipment, so you have to adapt.

Ottawa, new setting for American Christmas films

In the suburbs of Ottawa, the filming of the film “Hocus Pocus Christmas”, April 16, 2024 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada / Dave Chan / AFP

Responsible for creating the illusion, Mathieu Bissonnette-Bigras, special effects supervisor, has the mission of “trick the eye” of the viewer.

“It’s often the small places that will make the effect more realistic”he estimates, applying foam, paper and cotton to create snow on the doorstep of a store.

On set, nothing is easy. “If it’s too hot, the moss melts… If it’s too windy, everything blows away”explains producer Josie Fitzgerald.

The scenes will then be retouched in post-production.

Parkas at 30 degrees

“It’s fun and cool!” The people in the movie put up all this fake snow and lots of Christmas decorations”explains Hannah, 9 years old, who is walking with her mother.

Established in Almonte since 2016, Kim Nixon believes he has seen “between 15 and 20” Christmas film shoots, and even the American actor Justin Hartley (“This is us”).

For one of them, last July, “thanks to the decorations, we would have thought we were in the middle of January”he says. “It was truly something to see”he emphasizes.

More “I felt sorry for the actors who wore parkas in 30 degree weather”sourit M. Nixon.

Ottawa, new setting for American Christmas films

Danish actress Emilie Ullerup during the filming of the film “Hocus Pocus Christmas” on April 16, 2024 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. / Dave Chan / AFP

In recent years, Hallmark, Lifetime, Oprah Winfrey Network, among others, have spent more than 50 million Canadian dollars (33.7 million euros) per year to shoot films in Ottawa.

Broadcasters are lured by a generous tax credit that covers 45% of labor costs, or 10% more than in the major film production centers of Toronto and Vancouver.

And then here, “there is a +wow+ effect here”says Sandrine Pechels of Saint Sardos, mentioning the architecture of the Château Laurier, the Rideau Canal, the paved walkways, the natural parks and the picturesque villages that replace small American towns.