The holiday film "Branches," shot at Lehighton's Crystal Spring Tree Farm, is completed and will be ready for distribution this holiday season.

To celebrate, those closest to its production were invited for a private showing at the NJ Film School in Martinsville, N.J. The group gathered to watch the short film several times and to look back on the film's journey.

"We had a great time at the Botek farm in February," said Director Chris Messineo.

During their three days of filming, the crew captured more than two hours of footage, said Messineo. That footage was eventually trimmed into a six minute film - not an easy task by any means. He immediately requested the help of editor Don Riemer, who worked with Messineo to find the best shots and bring the storyline together.

"There were some great shots, but there were some challenges," said Messineo. The film was shot immediately after a February snow storm dumped more than a foot of white stuff in our area. Each day, the snow melted a bit and became less deep - which was sometimes visible in the raw footage. Varying weather conditions meant that the sky was a beautiful blue on the first day of shooting, and then gray skies the next.

After the film, the owners of Crystal Spring Tree Farm reflected on seeing their farm on the "big screen."

"It's the first time we've seen it on film. Everything looked just as beautiful as it could, with the snow and the trees," said Margaret Botek. "I was very impressed by the film. It reminded me not to forget about friends and family. Don't lose those connections."

The short film follows four friends as they search for the perfect Christmas tree, and reminds viewers not to take holiday traditions and friendly - or life itself - for granted. Writer and producer Rick Hansberry learned this lesson first-hand as an adult, when he lost a loved one and also discovered the joy of reconnecting with childhood friends. This is the message that he hopes to share with others through the film. While the movie is just six minutes long, it carries the emotional weight of a feature-length film.

"I want to thank you all for being a part of this. It means a great deal to see you all again," said Hansberry, who came up with the concept behind Branches nearly a decade ago. He noted that 96 people were involved in the making of this short film, from the actors and directors to those who made financial contributions.

"We couldn't have done it without every one of them. It means a lot to me that people were willing to support us," he said. "It means a lot to see people scurrying over a tree farm to make your vision come true."

In addition to several locals - the entire Botek family served as extras, as did other local families, and Palmerton Area High School student Brandon Wood was a key grip - the film features multiple big names, including narrator Daniel Stern (The Wonder Years, Home Alone) and composer Michael Whalen, a two-time Emmy winner.

Branches will be available for purchase online at www.branchesmovie.com [2] and at Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton.

The short film has been entered into multiple film festivals, including the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals in Utah; West Chester and New Hope festivals in Pennsylvania; Hearts & Minds, a family film festival in Maryland; and the Aspen Shorts festival, the most prestigious "short" film festival in America.

The film has been accepted into the Pocono Mountains Film Festival in Pocono Manor, which features independent filmmakers. "Branches" will be shown at the Pocono Mountains Film Festival on Friday, October 29 and Saturday, October 30.

Hansberry also encouraged those in the area to attend one of the film's first public showings in Lititz on November 20 at Penn Cinema. The screening is free and will be followed by a question and answer session hosted by Hansberry.

"It's a wonderful way to start the holiday weekend," he added.

"Branches" will also be shown immediately before the Capital Performing Arts Center's annual showing of "Holiday Inn" on Friday, December 17. As the holidays rapidly approach, all involved expressed delight that the film would be ready for distribution this winter.

"Our goal for this film was to create a film that people would pull out at the holidays to enjoy," said Hansberry. "I know my own family certainly will."