Christmas at Maxwell's - a new Christmas Classic DVD Movie

Local film brings message of life, faith
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
By Julie E. Washington, Reporter, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Christmas at Maxwell's," a family drama produced by filmmakers Bill and Tiffany Laufer, conveys a powerful message about faith.

Angels, spirituality and miracles permeate "Christmas at Maxwell's," a feature film shot in the Cleveland area. Bill Laufer wrote and directed it, daughter Tiffany Laufer was the cinematographer, and together they produced it.

The Laufers are in Los Angeles today for a pre-release screening of "Christmas at Maxwell's" at the American Film Institute. They hope to raise interest in the film and find a distribution company. There are no plans now for a Cleveland premiere.

Bill, 58, lives in Cleveland Heights; Tiffany, 30, grew up in Cleveland Heights and is pursuing a film career in Los Angeles.

Cleveland actors Andrew May and Jack Hourigan anchor the cast of "Christmas at Maxwell's." May is associate artistic director of the Great Lakes Theater Festival. Hourigan is host of a program on the Food Network and was a member of the now-defunct Second City Cleveland improv troupe.

May and Hourigan portray Andrew and Suzie Austin, respectively, in the film. Suzie's fight with cancer is nearing the end, and the entire family is affected by her illness.

Andrew, Suzie and their two children decide to spend Christmas at their summer home, the Maxwell House. Surrounded by memories and the love of friends, the Austins pray for and receive a profound holiday miracle.

The story is a personal one for Bill Laufer. When he was a teenager, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and given six weeks to live. She went into remission and lived another 16 years, Laufer said.

The story of the Austin family's miracle has biblical and real-life connotations, he said. "It really is about forgiveness and acceptance," said Laufer, who portrays a priest in the movie.

During filming, father and daughter had to become collaborators and working partners. "It was fantastic. He and I have collaborated for so long," Tiffany Laufer said, referring to their partnership in a film production company, Laufer Film.com. This is their first feature film,

For her, the message of "Christmas at Maxwell's" is that the beauty of life is worth fighting for every day, Tiffany Laufer said.

The Laufers filmed "Christmas at Maxwell's" earlier this year for less than $3 million. The locations included Chagrin Falls and Cleveland Heights. A Lakeside, Ohio, house built in the 1800s stood in for the Maxwell House.

May said he joined the project to help Bill Laufer, his friend and neighbor. "Then it was me in it as the central character," May said.

May's children were cast as the Austin children in the movie. Julia, 12, and Charlie, 8, loved exploring the wardrobe department, the food table and other people's houses during shooting, May said.

May's father, Angus May, also had a speaking role.

Hourigan said she was touched by her character's situation; Suzie is dying and preparing herself to leave her family. "A lot of things hit home in this," said Hourigan, who lives in Pepper Pike.

She views "Maxwell's" as a modern fable about faith. "There is always hope in the darkest moments of life," she said.

Bill Laufer would love "Christmas at Maxwell's" to become another sleeper indie hit like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but mostly he wants it to touch hearts.

"I hope it's a movie that brings hope and life to people," he said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: jwashington@plaind.com, 216-999-4539

© 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission


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