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Documentary in the works about Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington

August 21, 2013

LAKE PLACID - Brooklyn residents Christa Orth and Ali Cotterill were planning to make a documentary about amusement parks all over the United States.

But then they visited Santa's Workshop, and they were enchanted.

They decided instead to make their entire first feature-length documentary about the local amusement park in Wilmington.

Article Photos

Photo/Jessica Collier
Brooklyn residents Christa Orth and Ali Cotterill who are working on a feature-length documentary film about Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington.

When they first came to shoot footage a year-and-a-half ago, they were drawn in by the fact that it's a slice of 1950s-style Americana, and that it's a small, independent operation. They saw it as quaint that the area where the park resides has its own post office and zip code and is officially called the North Pole.

"All these details that make it such a fantastic place that embodies the spirit of Christmas, and we hope the film will convey that," Orth said.

It was one of the country's first theme parks, opening in 1949, and Orth and Cotterill said they were fascinated that it has managed to stay open for so long.

"We were really curious about the magic of why this one stayed around," Cotterill told the News in a recent interview. "It's a super inspiring story."

Orth, 37, grew up in Seattle, and she said she loves the Adirondacks because they remind her of home. On the flip side, Cotterill, 33, grew up in New Jersey, and she's partial to the area because it doesn't remind her of home. They moved to Brooklyn about five years ago.

Both of them had day jobs. Cotterill works in film and television as an editor, and Orth is a U.S. historian.

"I'm very interested in American culture, and this fits right in," she said.

Together they have made a number of short films, but they decided it was time to collaborate on a feature-length documentary.

The pair uses vacation time to come to the Adirondacks and shoot footage, and they try to fit in as much as they possibly can.

"We've had kind of a breakneck schedule," Orth said.

They have interviewed a number of people for the documentary so far, and many people seem to visit the theme park generation after generation. Orth said it seems like almost everyone in the area has a connection to the place. And because the park is so small, people often remember individual elves and workers there.

Besides a variety of visitors to the park, Orth and Cotterill have interviewed people involved in the creation of it, like Bob Reiss, son of Santa's Workshop founder Julian Reiss. They loved hearing about Julian Reiss, who along with Arto Monaco and Harold Fortune created the theme park from scratch.

"They all had these big dreams," Orth said. "They had no template for this. They had to create everything from the ground up."

Then Doug Waterbury bought the park a little over a decade ago and refurbished much of it, adding a few new elements. According to a 2012 story in Oswego County Business Magazine, Waterbury dreams of adding custom homes and condos, and maybe even a sprawling water park, on the land surrounding Santa's Workshop, but that's more of a long-term project.

Cotterill said she and Orth have found tons of people to interview for the project, because it's subject matter dear to the hearts of many.

"It's not a very hard sell, right?" she said.

Their trip this month was the third time they've been here to shoot footage so far - once in winter and two times in the summer - and they plan to come back a few more.

But they're still looking for others to interview for the documentary. The average feature-length documentary starts with about 250 hours of footage.

"We've got a ways to go," Cotterill said. "I would say we're at least two years out."

Anyone who has stories about Santa's Workshop that they want to share can contact Cotterill by email at

They don't plan to interview Santa or the characters who sing and dance in the shows and walk around the park greeting children. That's been difficult, Cotterill said, because the characters are played actors, so they are naturally hams. But they want the documentary can be viewed by young and old alike without breaking the magic of the theme park.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or




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