Students, Staff, Alumni Collaborate on “Christmas in July”
By Merritt Jenkins
Lee University alumni, staff, and students have been working on a feature length film, “Christmas in July,” which recently released to major streaming services.
The film is directed by Lee 2009 graduate Miles Matsuno; produced by April Reuning, part-time faculty at Lee, and Dr. Jeff Salyer, assistant professor of communication; and crewed by Lee cinema students, alumni, and various professionals. In addition to Lee family, the Cleveland community assisted the project by serving as extras and providing locations.
“I was inspired by the heart of the story by the original writer, Bret Kofford, and the impact of the overall message it had,” said Matsuno. “The films and content I make are uplifting, meaningful, and mostly family oriented.”
Matsuno reached out to Salyer with early drafts of “Christmas in July.”
“I read the script from cover to cover, and we talked about how beautiful and touching the story is and how amazing it would be to collaborate on it one day,” said Salyer.
After countless rewrites to the script, production began summer of 2017. The team shot over the course of three weeks in southeast Tennessee and north Georgia. Throughout the film, various Cleveland locations such as Bon Life Coffee, Pathway Press, the Old Woolen Mill, the Lee University Chapel, and the historic homes on Centenary Avenue make an appearance.
“During the process there were lots of ups and downs, as is such with filmmaking, but I had a good support system and team along the way,” said Matsuno. “I’m very happy with the film and the way that it turned out and how it’s been received throughout the country, an d I’m grateful for everyone who played a role in making this a reality.”
Matsuno worked with several Los Angeles-based companies over the course of a year to complete post-production, which includes editing, sound design, music scoring, and coloring. After completion, it was submitted to and accepted by many film festivals, including some of the largest faith and family centric festivals in the world, where it was the Featured Film of the Knoxville Film Festival, finalist for Best Faith Based Feature Film at Burbank International Film Festival, and won Best Supporting Actress at Canadian International Faith and Film Festival, among others.
“For me, the best part about making this film was collaborating with other people,” said Salyer. “We keep hearing, ‘this film has heart’ or ‘it connected with me because I know what that family is going through.’ To have those kinds of comments makes it worth the effort. Myles Matsuno is a wonderful storyteller who really cares about the subject of his stories. You can see his compassion for people in the characters of ‘Christmas in July,’ and I can’t wait to see what is next in his career.”
Matsuno continues to work on several projects, including a documentary about his family’s wrongful imprisonment in Japanese internment camps during World War II, “First to Go.” He is also writing more screenplays and working with brands to create meaningful cinematic content.
In addition to teaching, Salyer serves as the director of marketing at Lee. He has, in collaboration with students and faculty, produced four short films that have been in film festivals across the country including the Austin, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville Film Festivals, winning several awards including Best Short Film four times.
“Christmas in July” released in a limited number of theaters over the summer and is currently available for rent and purchase on major digital platforms including AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play, and Fandango Now.