You might be saying “I do” to a new queer holiday film shot right here in Michigan.
Not only does the movie feature heartwarming coziness, “A Holiday I Do,” filmed over five weeks in 2022, features places like Saugatuck and the greater West Michigan area. Director Alicia Schneider, a bisexual filmmaker from Michigan, also filmed scenes in mid-Michigan — which wasn’t without challenges, she tells Pride Source.
“Lansing itself was great, but once you got out of that into the more rural areas, it was tough. Once they found out what the film was, we had a couple of people back out,” Schneider says. “But we were lucky enough to find the perfect locations, and they were all very accepting.”
Schneider says she chose the Midwest as the setting for her film because many people don’t realize there are “so many wonderful accepting people here” and because growing up “as a gay person in the Midwest” is all that she’s ever known.
“A lot of LGBTQ+ films now take place in New York or L.A. or Chicago, so I think a Midwest viewpoint has been a bit missed,” she says. “I wanted to touch on those people so that it could give them a place to feel seen.”
While there have been hundreds of made-for-TV Christmas films that lovingly nail the formula to a tee, chief among them on the Hallmark Channel, those films have been slow to incorporate queer characters into its movies in lieu of more “traditional” love stories. Perhaps because of the popular support for and marked success of other LGBTQ+ Christmas movies, Hallmark debuted “The Christmas House” in 2020 — its first holiday film featuring a gay couple — and this season, it has two new queer films, “Christmas on Cherry Lane” and “Friends & Family Christmas.”
These queer-inclusive Hallmark holiday movies come on the heels of backlash that Hallmark faced in 2019 when it pulled commercials off the air that featured lesbian brides. It was around this time that Schneider began a Christmas movie binge herself. After watching a few films, she began to feel a noticeable gap in LGBTQ+ Christmas film representation. That’s when she got the idea for the queer-led film “A Holiday I Do,” which came out this November on Tello, a streamer dedicated to programming featuring queer women.
“I just wanted to watch two women fall in love, because that was the point that I was at in my life,” Schneider says. “I just wanted to see myself represented, and I couldn’t find one [movie] anywhere.”
Schneider partnered with her husband, Paul Schneider, to make the film; together they operate the Michigan-based production company Rock Solid Creative Studios. From the get-go, Schneider was clear that whatever the story was about, she didn’t want to make the focus a coming out story.
“I wanted it to be exactly like a heterosexual Hallmark film where it just happened to be two women who fell in love at the end, because it should be that simple,” she says. “It shouldn’t have to be this big, blown-up coming out story. It should just be, ‘Hey, I love this person. Here we are.’”
“A Holiday I Do” follows Jane, played by Lindsay Hicks, who is raising her 10-year-old daughter and, after the death of her father, takes over managing her family’s Michigan horse farm. Still good friends with her ex-husband, she agrees to fulfill the duties of best (wo)man for his upcoming Christmas wedding. Rainbow sparks fly when she meets wedding planner Sue, played by Rivkah Reyes. The film also stars openly gay “Night Court” actress Marsha Warfield, who plays a banker that has a hand in saving the family farm.
To achieve both equity and authenticity, Schneider insisted that “every gay person in the film was actually played by a real-life LGBTQ person.”
For the story, Schneider was also inspired by her own life, including her relationship to Paul, who she married in 2010. The two enlisted the help of Michigan-based writer Melinda Bryce to secure a screenplay.
“It’s been a journey; our relationship is very different now, and I think that a lot of that is reflected in the film, too,” Schneider says. “I have gone through such a spiritual journey over the last few years, and our first film we did was actually a Christian film because my partner and I grew up in the Christian community. Once we left the church and had a little film in between, that was a gateway from the Christian genre into the more secular genre. I said, ‘Let’s just go for it. Let’s do a film about what represents us as people now,’ and that’s what ‘A Holiday I Do’ is.”
Schneider adds that because the story is partially autobiographical, she felt the casting process was seamless, especially since she had a clear picture of how the film should look. When casting interviews began, she knew she wanted to feature Reyes and was thrilled when she learned that they were interested in the role.
“I had never seen Lindsay Hicks, who played Jane, but as soon as she popped up on my Zoom screen I said, ‘That’s our Jane.’ The fact that we got Marsha Warfield, that would have never been something that I would have even thought was possible,” Schneider says. “And when she wanted to come on to the project I was like, ‘OK, we’ve got something really, really magical here.’”
Hicks says she was thrilled to play the part of Jane because she loved the idea of providing a new take on a well-loved format and because she related to many aspects of Jane’s character.
One was “leaving a relationship because you aren’t quite sure who you are and you have to go figure that out for yourself and it ends up being the right decision,” Hicks says.
Hicks adds that “A Holiday I Do” is especially important to her because Jane never has to defend her queerness to anyone. “It’s not up for question that Jane is queer and nobody questions that Sue might be queer,” Hicks says. “They can just be gay, which is what the world should be: If you’re gay, just be gay!”
Hicks agrees that visibility was a key reason she was interested in the project, noting the value of the queer-inclusive Christmas movies because the winter holiday season is a time when LGBTQ+ people “often feel alienated” from holiday traditions.
“[The film] may seem like a drop in the bucket or something small that doesn’t matter,” she says, “but I think that every little thing that we can do that normalizes being a queer person anywhere in the world is so unbelievably valuable.”
Rent or buy “A Holiday I Do” now at Tello Films.