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Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas

You know about Santa Claus, so you’ve probably also heard
stories about Saint Nicholas. Perhaps you’ve doubted their existence. Maybe you
stopped believing in Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas a long time ago.

Since the 4th century, the stories told of these renowned
Christmas figures have included both myth and fact. The truth is, the
traditional red suited, white bearded Santa Claus originated from Saint
Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor.

One thing is for sure: the movie Nicholas
of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas
, which was filmed entirely in
Western New York, specifically in Buffalo, will capture the hearts of the young
and old in the previously untold account of the historical Saint Nicholas. As
the movie’s tagline states: “You will believe in him.”  

“Nicholas of Myra” was created by writer/director Gerald Hartke
(photo: bottom right) back in 2001. What triggered the idea for the movie? Hartke received a ‘Father Christmas’ ornament from his sister to
add to his collection of ornaments representing various traditional Christmas
figures. His imagination sparked, he began to seek out information about
‘Father Christmas,’ which led him to information about Saint Nicholas.

Although he grew up Catholic, Hartke looked forward to Christmas
because of the potential gifts he would receive, as most children do. The story
and significance of Saint Nicholas was never emphasized in his childhood.

nicholas_of_myra_01-buffalo-ny.jpg

Nicholas lived in Myra, which is part of modern-day Turkey. He
was an orphan for the majority of his childhood, as he lost his parents to an
epidemic. Around 300 AD, Nicholas became the bishop of Myra. In his lifetime, he
was extremely generous, known for his compassion and sacrifices to the poor and
needy. Although he was never officially canonized a saint, Nicholas was heavily
revered for his good deeds after his death in 343 AD, and was therefore referred
to as “Saint Nicholas.”

“I couldn’t believe I never knew any of this,” said Hartke. “After
a few visits to the library to satisfy my curiosity about the validity of it
all, I soon became focused on turning his story into a screenplay, a project
that ended up taking me three years to research and write.”

In 2004, the screenplay was completed and Hartke began his
tireless search for the perfect cast. In December 2004, Buffalo Niagara Film
Commission
Advisory Board member Jennifer Koch Gibson recommended Hartke consider
Matthew Mesler for the lead role of Saint Nicholas. Mesler had starred in the 2003
film Tiny Magic, which appeared on
PBS, and had a small role in Dawson’s Creek. After watching Tiny Magic, Hartke felt confident that
Mesler was the perfect fit for the movie’s most important character.

By 2006, the cast had been assembled and the crew was ready to
begin filming. Hartke didn’t have to search far from his hometown of Clarence,
NY for a venue in which to film the movie, and decided to shoot entirely in
WNY.

“We’re making what could have been easily a 20 million dollar
production in Hollywood for about 10 times less,” said Hartke. “What makes this
possible is the diversity of culture and architecture in the area… we never
considered going anywhere else.”

Many of the movie’s scenes were filmed at a soundstage in
Williamsville. The cast and crew of Nicholas
of Myra
also traveled to
Allegany State Park, the Lake Erie waterfront and the Genesee Country Village
& Museum in Mumford, NY.  nicholas_of_myra_02-buffalo-ny.jpg

Hartke is proud of his hometown and WNY. His perceptive
imagination allowed him to envision the possibilities that existed within the
area and he genuinely believes that it is “a unique melting pot of resources
that has not been utilized in the best way.” One of Hartke’s goals in directing
and producing the film was to positively change people’s perceptions of Buffalo
and WNY.

Indeed, Hartke’s choice of utilizing WNY locations is impressive
and appreciated. “When people see the final product, most won’t believe that it
was shot entirely in Western New York,” said Buffalo Niagara Film Commission
Film Commissioner Tim Clark. “That’s a true testament to the creative vision of
Jerry and his team. It’s also a testament to Jerry’s devotion to our
community.”

The dedication of Hartke to Buffalo is also proved in the money
that was given to our local arts community. “We’ve been able to invest more
than a half a million dollars in local crew and talent for this film and there
will be more before we’re through,” said Hartke. “Now, we need people of the
community to invest more in projects like Nicholas of Myra.”

Hartke is passionate about sharing Nicholas’ story. According to
Hartke, with today’s sacred vs. secular arguments surrounding Christmas, the
true religious meaning of the holiday has been misplaced and negatively
transformed. Therefore, “the story of Saint Nicholas of Myra gives credence to
the contemporary Christmas icon, while reinforcing the magic of the season and
the reason for it.”

Although there is currently no official release date, Hartke
said that the film’s first screening will definitely be in Buffalo. Ultimately,
Hartke’s objective is to show Nicholas of
Myra
in theaters worldwide. He sees the possibility for mimicking Saint
Nicholas’ generous nature in potentially raising money for charities by holding
premier screenings during the holiday season. 

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