Click photo to enlarge
Bruce Mertz, aka. Mr. Xxmas, is celebrating his 30th year of over-the-top Christmas lights displays at his 5208 Olive Dr. house in Concord, Calif. where he was photographed Dec. 15, 2008. (Karl Mondon/ Staff)

Like a lot of American kids, Nick Palmer remembers spending holiday evenings riding in a car with his family and viewing the Christmas lights in his Concord neighborhood.

Of all the Christmases he looks back on, the lights were among the lasting memories, Palmer said.

"But the most exciting stop was Bruce Mertz' house," said Palmer.

As a child, Palmer recalls seeing lighted reindeer running on the roof of Mertz' house as well as more reindeer on the lawn.

"It was always this cool, magical thing I saw as a kid," Palmer said.

Through all the years he spent viewing Mertz' display, Palmer said he never met the man behind it, who was known as "Mr. Christmas."

"Bruce was always this mythical figure for me that I was aware existed but I never saw him," he said.

But once, a few years ago when Palmer came home for the holidays, he finally got a face-to-face encounter with the famous Mr. Christmas.

"Me and my buddies were having a low-key Christmas with nothing to do so we went to a bar at 11 p.m. and all of a sudden Mr. Christmas comes in wearing a glowing jacket and hat. He had sewn the light bulbs onto the jacket," said Palmer. "It was an incredible sight to see."

Palmer, who received his master's degree in directing at the American Film Institute, introduced himself to Mertz and a conversation led to Palmer making a documentary film about the Christmas lights.

The documentary film, "Mr. Christmas" will be screened at the California Independent Film Festival, which runs from Nov. 8-11. Palmer's film will screen Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. at the Rheem Theatre in Moraga; and 3:15 p.m. at the Orinda Theatre in Orinda.

There will be a Q-and-A after each screening.

Public reception for "Mr. Christmas" has been well-received, screening at dozens of film festivals all over the world and winning a number of awards. It will be the first Bay Area screening of the documentary, said Palmer, who remembers making films with his friends in elementary school.

"Not only will it be the first time Bruce gets to see the film with an audience, but it will be a hometown crowd, filled with people who've visited Bruce's house for years," said Palmer, now 31, and a screenwriter in Hollywood. "People who, like me, grew up going by Bruce's house every Christmas and can now bring their own children to see it."

Palmer said he got to know Mertz a little more through the filming of the documentary. In addition to learning how Mertz made all sorts of decorations light up or move, Palmer learned that after Mertz' wife died, the Christmas lights tradition of more than 30 years became more elaborate. It was like a tribute to Mertz' late wife, Palmer said.

Before its Bay Area screening, "Mr. Christmas" screened at various short film festivals, including events in Aspen and Palm Springs.

"It really meant a lot to me that the audience was so receptive to the film because there are a lot of films out there," said Palmer, who also wrote and directed films throughout his Clayton Valley High School and Diablo Valley College days, and continued his filmmaking and screenwriting while studying at UCLA.

Mertz, who's seen the film in the privacy of his home, said he's eager to see it with a live audience in a theater.

"It's a behind-the-scenes look at Mr. Christmas, different from the way people usually see me," said Mertz, 82, who was given the name "Mr. Christmas" by the city of Concord in recognition for his service in bringing happiness to the neighborhood, he said.

There are DVDs of "Mr. Christmas" for sale for visitors who want to take home a souvenir of their visit to see the display.

For now, Mertz said, a gigantic black cat and a stagecoach run by ghosts occupy his lawn for Halloween.

"Nick has a sense of humor so the film's quite humorous," Mertz said. "He did a super job on it. But there's a touching part of the film that brings you to tears."

If you go
WHAT: Documentary screening of "Mr. Christmas"
WHEN: Nov. 11 during California Independent Film Festival. Film screened at 11 a.m. at the Rheem Theatre, 350 Park St., Moraga; and 3:15 p.m. at the Orinda Theatre, 4 Theatre Square, Orinda
INFORMATION: http://www.facebook.com/MrXmasMovie