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'Mr. Christmas' Lights Up Film Fest

The California Independent Film Festival opens Thursday; it includes a movie about Bruce Mertz, a Concord resident who decorates his home each year with 50,000 lights during the holiday season.

As the California Independent Film Festival opens tonight (Thursday) and turns Moraga and Orinda once more into Hollywood North, one film that will draw attention has a local focus.

An "offbeat, touching portrait" of a Concord man is a documentary showing at the 15th Annual California Independent Film Festival (CAIFF) this weekend. 

Bruce Mertz has become known as "Mr. Christmas" over the years for his magnificent and ever-growing display of lights at his home in Concord during the holidays. 

The movie reveals the humble beginnings of a boy who grew up on a farm with no electricity and later lit up a town as "Mr. Christmas." The director, Nick Palmer, is a native Concordian who now lives and works as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

The upcoming holidays will mark the 34th year Mertz has decorated his home at 5208 Olive Dr. in Concord.

"Mr. Christmas" screens on Sunday, Nov. 11, as part of the Kids Program at CAIFF. The first showing is at 11 a.m. at the Rheem Theatre in Moraga and the second showing is at 3:15 p.m. at the Orinda Theatre. A full schedule of events can be found on the CAIFF website. Mertz, aka "Mr. Christmas" himself, is expected to be in attendance. 

A copy of the movie can be bought from MrChristmasMovie.com for $9.99.

Other festival highlights

A couple of entertainment names will attend the festival to receive awards: singer-actress Connie Stevens will get the Lifetime Achievement Award and Dawn Wells, the subject of a million Mary Ann or Ginger debates on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island, will get the Diamond Award. Stevens and Wells will sit for Q&A sessions at the festival.

The international focus of the festival increases with entries from 14 countries.

Opening night starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with a reception followed by screenings of Procession, The Body Complete and One Small Hitch.

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