Love on Holiday: An ode to passion for music in the heart of Sturgeon Bay

Local filmmaker bridges gap between filmmaking and songwriting in Door County

By Freddy Moyano

The cover for Love on Holiday by Chris Opper

It’s hard to capture the feeling of a jam session with musicians unless you’re there, but one local filmmaker’s documentary about Door County’s Steel Bridge Songfest is capturing audiences attention at local film festivals with it’s latest showing scheduled for March 4 at the Green Bay Film Festival.  

Door County Filmmaker Chris Opper landed a position in the video editing department at Fox 11 News in Green Bay in 1995. After a few years on the job, he developed a passion for editing, which, he said, prompted him to attend the Watkins Film School in Nashville, Tennessee where he majored in film editing.

After graduating in 2000, he said he edited a total of four feature films, directing two of them, as well as a few short films. Now settled in Door County, Opper said, he combines his love for video production and music, with editing videos for local musicians.  

In 2019, Opper said he attended the Love On Holiday fundraising segment hosted every February by the Steel Bridge Songfest at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. He said the songwriting festival was originally created to save the town’s steel bridge by raising money through both a yearly Halloween event called Dark Songs and the Love on Holiday week every February. 

“I was blown away by the talent I saw on stage that night (at the festival),” Opper, who attended events in the past, said. “Over the next year, I could not get it out of my head. I wanted, better yet, I needed to make a movie about this.” 

Fast-forward to February 2020, pre-pandemic, festival organizers, Pat McDonald and Melanie Jane invited Opper to attend and record the festival with the goal of making a documentary and spreading the word about the yearly event. 

Opper said, the documentary features musicians, writers, composers and enthusiasts at the festival and work for five days to brainstorm, write and rehearse their songs, all to get ready for a two-day weekend performance at Third Avenue Playhouse. 

Opper’s film also follows festival musicians as they share their input in between performing. 

The film’s format is unique in that Opper uses video transitions to toggle back and forth from motel music writing sessions, to performance, then back to rehearsal sessions, which he said was part of his vision.

“That is what happened through the (filmmaking process), yet that’s exactly what I was going for,” he said. “I went there just thinking I’m getting a little bit of footage here and there, maybe put together a small film. The final product ended up becoming a feature length production at just over 76 minutes long.” 

After his first day of filming, Opper said he could tell the film was coming together. 

“I went back home after that first day and I told my wife, ‘Honey, I’m not going to be around the rest of the week,’” he said. 

He said he wanted to get the rest of the footage while things were going well.

And they were. Opper said he got most of his footage that night.

Opper said the film connects thoughts with applause to create the film’s pacing and a solid foundation for a new song, which is present from the beginning of the film through to the end. 

Love on Holiday is currently touring film festivals. 

For more information, check out the Green Bay film festival’s website.

Freddy Moyano is a film critic as well as an award-winning filmmaker and actor. He was raised in Madrid, Spain and moved to Wisconsin in 2002. He has called Green Bay home ever since.

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