Screenwriter Bret Kofford (left) of Imperial listens as filmmaker Myles Matsuno speaks at a screening of “Christmas in July” at the Knoxville (Tenn.) Film Festival in September 2019. The film, which Kofford was principal writer on, will get a local debut at The Movies in Imperial on Friday, July 16. Kofford and Matsuno will be in attendance at some of the screenings on Friday to chat with moviegoers. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BRET KOFFORD
IMPERIAL — Bret Kofford’s love for music is almost encyclopedic in its depth of obsession, and it’s his affinity for deep cuts, a witty turn of phrase, or even a well-placed song title that can bring about inspiration.
Such was the case with the kernel of an idea behind the 2019 Matsuno Media production, “Christmas in July,” which was to see limited release in theaters around the country on Friday, July 16.
The principal screenwriter behind the film, Kofford was drawn to the title of one of singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ tracks buried midway through the fourth disc of the eclectic artist’s expansive 2006 holiday album, “Songs for Christmas.”
Although the song has nothing to do with the plot of the film — which will be shown locally at The Movies in Imperial starting Friday through Wednesday, July 21 — it was enough to get Kofford’s gears turning and allowed this experienced screenwriter to finally use music as a through line and not a mere plot point.
“His music is a little, maybe, ethereal for me, but it’s beautiful, too. So, I listen to his music a lot, and I was listening to his Christmas album. This was a long time ago, almost 10 years ago, and he had a song called ‘Christmas in July.’ And I started thinking to myself, ‘wow, that might be a good plot for a movie,’ and I just started formulating it from there,” Kofford said over the phone on Thursday, July 16, as he was heading back to the Valley from a brief vacation.
Kofford, of Imperial, and filmmaker Myles Matsuno will be at The Movies during a couple showings on Friday night to chat it up with friends, family, and fans of the film, which will also be released to digital platforms on Tuesday, July 20.
Not really a Q&A with the filmmakers in a traditional sense, Kofford said he and Matsuno will be more in a meet-and-greet mode — “just to meet people, talk to people and stuff.”
Kofford, who is a former editor at the Imperial Valley Press and now a writing and film instructor at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, will be at the 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. showings. Matsuno, who is both director and producer of the film, will be at the 7:15 showing.
Matsuno, Kofford explained, also has extensive family and other connections to the Imperial Valley, including living in the Valley for a short time during his childhood. The pair connected in the early 2000s when Matsuno and Kofford were among the judges and speakers at past Imperial County Film Festivals.
“Christmas in July” has become well-regarded in some film circles, making a strong showing since its initial release to independent film festival circuit throughout the United States and Canada, and its principal writer believes it’s because the movie has depth and a real heart at its core.
“It’s not your typical Christmas movie. It’s not, you know, like the Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s a little deeper and more complicated, and even though it’s winning Christian film festivals, it’s not a Christian film, either,” Kofford said.
A man of faith himself, Kofford said the movie has its value system and a connection to the private Christian college that Matsuno attended in the South, so “Christmas in July” does tend to have an orbit in that world.
Yet it functions outside those boundaries. “Christmas in July” isn’t a redemption film, where its protagonist finds God; rather, “he just happens to be the son of a Methodist minister,” Kofford said.
The film’s story centers on a young man named Daniel, who is a former up-and-coming alternative music star who gave up music after the death of his musical partner, a death for which Daniel blames himself, Kofford explained.
Languishing in a job in a bookstore, Daniel finds out his beloved but usually crabby grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and other ailments, will not make it to Christmas, when she was always happiest. So, Daniel decides to stage a Christmas in July for his grandmother before she dies. Complications ensue, including the fact that Daniel’s bratty sister is planning her dream wedding for June.
“Christmas in July” is Kofford’s core creation, but he said Matsuno and his writing partner, Tyler Likes, did make some changes, including rewriting the start and the ending.
“Other than that, it’s pretty much the same film that I wrote. And I like it,” he said. “And there’s one scene, it’s exactly as I imagined it. And it’s my favorite scene in the movie. It’s a great scene. … It’s the scene where the brother and sister are sitting on the steps of the house talking.”
“Christmas in July” had one of its early showings at a film festival in Knoxville, Tenn., where Kofford attended with Matsuno and cast and crew members in 2019. Since then, the film has gone on to grab numerous nominations and two awards — the grandmother, played by Bonnie Johnson, won best supporting actress at the 2020 Canadian International Faith & Family Film Festival, and it was winner as an honorable mention for best film at the 2020 International Christian Film Festival.
Kofford, himself, was nominated at the International Christian Film Festival, based in Orlando, Fla., with best screenplay.
Closer to home, “Christmas in July” was nominated as best faith-based film at the 2020 Burbank International Film Festival.
While this is not Kofford’s biggest project or the one with the most reach at this point, it is a different level for the writer. He said Matsuno’s production rachets up the quality in many ways, from the look to the caliber of performances.
“I think the quality of the film is a step up … as far as the cinematography and the acting and complications of the plot,” Kofford said.
He was referring to his other Christmas-themed work, 2014’s “12 Dog Days Till Christmas,” starring “Family Matters” father, Reginald VelJohnson. That is a film that has found some serious life on many of the streaming platforms like Prime, Tubi, and Vudu, among others.
More recently, Kofford’s work on a strange comedic short dealing with our reliance on digital tools taken to extremes, 2019’s “Ok! Silexatana,” won awards at India’s Virgin Spring Cinefest, where he shared prizes with director, Tejash Natali, for best animated film (“gold award”) and best short film (“silver award”).
“Christmas in July” is special, though, because it will be something he gets to see on the big screen, potentially with friends and neighbors, and maybe even a few of his readers who have ridden him hard over the years.
“It’s really kind of surreal when you work on something, you write something, and then you see it up on the screen. I’ve had it happen a few times with short films and a couple times with feature-length movies, and to see that vision come to life …
“And this one, when I’ve seen it, it did really well. I’m not guaranteeing that will happen this time,” Kofford deadpanned for a moment, “but it’s gotten really good reactions. So, it’s a really fun thing. I’ve seen it with an audience a couple of times, and both times, people were into it.”
Starting Tuesday, “Christmas in July” will be streaming on Prime, Apple TV, Google TV, and Fandango.