"The Family Tree"

The Family Tree is a feature-length documentary following the story of a man pursuing his American Dream at the age of retirement of having a family-owned Christmas Tree farm and the local government doing everything they can to thwart his efforts.
The struggle of a 65 year-old man pursuing his dream of growing a Christmas tree farm against the opposition of the local government.

"The Family Tree"

The Family Tree is a feature-length documentary following the story of a man pursuing his American Dream at the age of retirement of having a family-owned Christmas Tree farm and the local government doing everything they can to stop him. Terry A McHugh ​spent his first Christmas in a bassinet on his family’s first Christmas Tree lot. He spent every summer on the family’s 50-acre farm cultivating it under the tutelage of his father. Since then, he has become a Christmas Tree aficionado and an active environmentalist, practicing sustainable farming techniques. This man is my father and when I was a we would go to my grandmother’s farm to cut down our own trees, until she passed away. Five years ago, I watched my father’s passion for trees become a clear vision to grow a Christmas Tree farm on a small plot of land he
purchased behind our home. All he needed was a barn in the woods to house the equipment, dry out the trees, and invite neighbors and friends over to enjoy it. When he bought the 4.97 acres, he was expecting to get his permit and start planting his trees within the same year. What he got instead was a lot of trouble: thousands in legal fees and having to face the local government time and time again adding years to his original timeline.

At the time of filming, land legislations were in flux as a reaction to the New York Farm Brewery Law being instated, and with microbreweries surging in the area as a result, Terry was caught in the cross-fire. As a man approaching his 65th Birthday, these postponements pose a very real threat to ever attaining his goals, as Fraser Firs take twelve years to grow from sapling to full-blown tree. This is unfortunately a familiar tale, and with small farms being weeded out to make way for Monsanto-like corporations and tax-friendly home developers, it’s no wonder the little guy feels forced to fold his cards.

Here we tell a different side of the story, one of hope. A less passionate man would have given up, but Terry redoubled his efforts, and soon began to see neighbors and friends step forward, rallying behind him to overwhelm the local government with community support like they hadn’t seen before. With the economy in a never-ending recession and dreams seeming less and less attainable, especially for small farmers , it’s difficult to keep one’s chin up to move through the struggle. The local government may have tried to steal his Christmas, but they could never take his spirit. This powerful film, one about overcoming adversity by living an authentic life and giving to those around you, delivers the kind of hope and joy that transcends all seasons.

– Amanda Kari McHugh
Director, Producer and Cinematographer
“The Family Tree”

Terry McHugh Terry spent most of his youth on a 50-acre Christmas Tree farm in a town smaller than Onondaga, called West Valley, about 50 miles outside of Buffalo, NY. His mother bought the farm in the 1950s and since then, he and his two older brothers and one older sister would come to the farm every summer to plant and cultivate the farm under the tutelage of his father Howard. The farm quickly grew into a business, which extended into having a number of Christmas tree lots in the Buffalo area during the holiday season. After he met his now wife, Emma, at orientation of college at Buffalo State University, she would ride on the back of his motorcycle to the farm on weekends and that was how they dated. Forty-six years later and their marriage and love are still growing strong. After bouncing around to a number of teaching jobs, Terry landed a job with Niagara Mohawk in Syracuse and then he and Emma settled into Sycamore Hills with their adopted daughter Amy, and a year later adopted Amanda. In 1999, in the process of Niagara Mohawk going out of business, Terry was laid off and, in that process, started his business McHugh Star Services, where he finds rare items and large equipment and re-sells them on eBay. In 2001, his mother Catherine passed away without details in her will as to who would take over the family Christmas tree farm. Since his brother Patrick lived next door to the property and was already running the tree lots, it was decided that he would take over the family business. A rift occurred between the two brothers wherein Patrick started charging Terry for Christmas trees even though he planted many of them growing up on the farm. Around this same time Terry found himself working for a now 101-year-old wealthy industrialist as his property manager in Syracuse and Brooklyn as well as a business manager helping to mediate problems within the company. In 2012, Terry purchased 4.97 acres of land only sixty feet from his current property with the intention of growing his own Christmas tree farm Emma McHugh Emma McHugh spent her youth in the Town of Cheektowaga just outside of Buffalo, NY and is the oldest of two sisters and one brother. Her father Phillip kept a Victory Garden in their backyard which is where Emma’s love for gardening and sustainable sourcing began. Her summers were spent with her family boating and fishing and camping with the Girl Scouts. She loved playing piano, violin, clarinet and accordion growing up as well as playing all sorts of sports. She attended Buffalo State where she met Terry and earned a bachelors and master’s degree in Home Economics. In the early years of her marriage with Terry, she made her and Terry Christmas stockings and Christmas tree ornaments out of household items such as cans and egg cartons which are treasured keepsakes the family still uses to this day. She started as a Home and Careers teacher and when she and Terry adopted Amy and Amanda, focused her energy on being a parent until Amanda was in school where she then became a Nursery school teacher and started her own wreath-making business which blossomed over the years during the holidays. Emma remains close to her siblings and spends every Christmas with her extended family at her sister Sharon’s home just outside of Buffalo. In 2001 Emma became the Home and Careers teacher at Amanda’s middle school Marcellus Central Schools. Emma is fully supportive of Terry’s dream and as she says in the film “his dream has become my dream.” Emma shows her support actively by helping in the yard and going door-to-door to her neighbors to encourage them to come to the town board of appeals final meeting which will determine the fate of Terry having his barn. Amy McHugh Amy McHugh was adopted at just a few days old from Florida by Terry and Emma and is the oldest of their two adopted daughters, Amy and Amanda. Amy grew up playing piano and French horn and found a love for photography on her 35mm camera. The friends she grew up with when she was just a baby, she still has strong friendships with to this day. They played volleyball, tennis and were in track together and have been in each other’s weddings. Amy went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie for Communications and got her master’s degree at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She met her now husband (and during filming fiancée) while studying abroad in Sydney and has since gone back and forth between Syracuse and Sydney to maintain the relationship. During filming she and her fiancée Andy are living in Syracuse, as Andy is a graduate student at Syracuse University in forensic sciences and Amy is working as a professor of international communications, and alternative student advisor at SUNY Oswego. Amy loves her parents dog Dundee and often takes care of him as if he were her own. Amy is very supportive of her father’s pursuit although she does present a skeptical, realist point-of-view on the issue in that she doesn’t understand her father’s vehement obsession with overcoming the town’s obstacles and wonders sometimes why he doesn’t just move to a new neighborhood. Since filming, Amy and Andy have gotten married in front of the finished barn in their woods, and they now reside in Sydney where Amy continues to work as an adjunct professor and is a new mom. Mike and Mary Fox Mike and Mary Fox grew up and met in Buffalo, New York. They have been family-friends and neighbors for over thirty years, ever since Mike Fox nearly ran over Amanda flying down the neighborhood’s steepest hill with her bike out of control. Mary worked in HR for a number of Syracuse companies and Mike worked for the IRS. They are currently both retired and enjoy traveling together. Emma and Mary have been going on morning walks together for over two decades and the couple loves enjoying wine, dinners, holidays and going to the theater with Terry and Emma. Mary often makes an appearance in the film as being a very supportive and humorous figure in the film with her outgoing energy that is akin to Terrys. She fully understands Terrys drive to accomplish his dreams as she says in the film “the things I loved when I was young, I still love doing today.” Kelly Matecki Kelly Matecki grew up as the first granddaughter on Terry’s side of the family to her father, Terry’s eldest brother, Howard. She and her younger brother Sean had a tough childhood as her mother Annette was sick for a long time and then passed away. She grew up playing on the family-farm and experienced her grandfather Charles as a rambunctious, fun guy who was always there for her. Her father remarried to Sandy and had two daughters Maggie and Jessie. Just before the start of filming Howard passed away. She is how a hair stylist in Elma near Buffalo, with college-aged twin sons and a daughter. Ted McHugh Ted McHugh was Terry’s eldest cousin. He grew up near Buffalo, New York on his father. Terry’s uncle, own Christmas tree farm. He recounts in his interview, how his father and Terry’s father had an argument about how the Christmas tree farm should be run, and so he broke off from McHugh Family Trees (Terry’s father’s farm) and started his own about a decade down the line. After his father passed away, his mother ran it for a while as they had Christmas tree lots in Buffalo covering areas that McHugh Family Trees did not. Since, Ted founded McHugh Art Studio, where he has become a well-known leaded-glass artist, repairing many churches in the Buffalo area. He also started his own Christmas tree farm, however about a decade in right when the trees had reached full growth, he lost 2/3 of the trees to deer and extreme weather shifts; after this he gave up on Christmas tree farming. Two years after filming his interview, Ted passed away and his son Pat took over his business as a stained-glass artist. The film will be in-part dedicated to him. Chris Finkle Chris Finkle has been Terry and Emma’s next-door neighbor and friend for nearly two decades. He is a retired assistant superintendent of north Syracuse central schools. Now he and his wife have a business restoring antique chests. He fully participates in neighborhood activities and he and Terry help each other with their own building projects very frequently. In the film we can see Terry assisting Chris with his chests and Chris standing up for Terry at the final town board of appeals meeting. Phil Sauro Phil Sauro has been in the neighborhood for over ten years and has one son and one daughter. He sells food products to restaurants and has very strong feelings about the local government. From his own experience as well as hearing from others he recounts how Mr. Ryan, the one who wouldn’t accept Terry and Emma’s permit application, is not the easiest person to work with and says very blatantly to the camera exactly what he thinks of him.

STATUS OF THE FILM

We are in post-production! In 2015, just a year after filming began, we had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign raising over 15k from more than 200 backers. Since then we have completely wrapped filming and are now halfway through editing! That being said, aside from an incredible campaign, we have so far been funding this project completely out of pocket and in our little blocks of free time in between freelancing to keep the lights on. So we are currently in the process of acquiring finishing funds through meeting with potential investors, applying for grants and pitching forums and also still accepting donations for support of this film.

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FILMMAKERS

Amanda Kari McHugh

Director/Cinematographer/Producer

Amanda Kari McHugh is a bi-coastal filmmaker who in January 2014 couch-crashed for a month and took all of the money she made from a variety of odd jobs to purchase a Canon 7D so that she could film "The Family Tree." She holds a BFA in Acting from The University of the Arts, studied directing, playwriting and scene design at the esteemed National Theater Institute fall intensive, and is a member of SAG-AFTRA. Amanda’s passion rests in building empathy in a society that is becoming more technology-centric. This has lead to her booking and promoting indie rock shows in Philly, co-founding two non-profits in LA focusing on outreach to DTLA’s skid row, and event coordinating for Creative Migration. Behind the camera, she has successfully art directed two award-winning films, raised 300k on Kickstarter for the feature-documentary David Lynch Presents: I Know Catherine, the Log Lady and now frequently works on set in production as well as a unit stills photographer. Her work as a photographer and writer, which has a gonzo- journalistic style, has been seen in the international Spanish magazine Lecturas, as well as the Hollywood Reporter, Vice/Thump, Brooklyn Mag, Time Out New York, Brooklyn Vegan, Dancing Astronaut, Everfest and her own blog Focal Nomad. Her aim is to engage audiences in conversation with her films about social issues and generational gaps, aiming to close the gap, and balance the old with the new on the ever-changing landscape of this planet.

MandaKMedia.com

Lillian Mauser-Carter

Editor/Co-Producer

Lillian Mauser-Carter was born on a couch in Dayton, Ohio, where the roots of her love for the weird and creative first unfurled. Deepening their reach, Lillian moved to Chicago in 2007 to learn Digital Filmmaking and Video Production at the Illinois Institute of Art. In the process of creating her first documentary, “Learn Free”, she realized the power of nonfiction storytelling and discovered her love for the craft. Upon completing her bachelor's degree in the fine arts, Lillian gained commercial experience while working at a major, fast-paced production house as an Associate Graphics Producer. Additionally, she gained experience as an editor for the feature documentary "Welcome to Unity" Hungry to explore new techniques and experiences, Lillian moved to New York City in 2013, eager to return to her documentary roots. After working various film production jobs while finding her footing in New York, Lillian helped raise funds and started editing "The Family Tree," a feature documentary about a man and his desire to have a Christmas tree farm against all odds. During this process, Lillian's broadened her scope working on a wide range of content for digital, film, and broadcast. Currently, she works full time at Viceland as an online editor on a variety of their prime time programming.

LillyMC.com

Dan Duggan

Composer

Dan Duggan is known nationally for his wizardry on hammered dulcimer and flat-picking guitar, and is the recipient of the National Hammered Dulcimer Championship. He is a true multi-intsrumentalist, equally at home on guitar, slide guitar, piano, banjo and his signature hammered dulcimer. Included in his extensive array of recordings (18), are six recordings of original compositions including the recently released "For the Love of Friends" He and his wife Peggy Lynn have released two trio albums with Dan Berggren, the more recent titled Jamcrackers, and as a duo have released four recordings: Keeping Christmas, A Stitch in Time, Be the Light and the recently released Esperance. Dan's children's album, Pieces of Our Life, earned a Parent's Choice Award in 1998. His dulcimer work can also be heard on Paul Simon's CD You're the One, released in October of 2000 and "The Paul Simon Collection" released in 2004.

EsperanceProductions.com

Thomas Ouziel

Sound Designer

Thomas' passion for sound grew in the midst of studying film production at Chapman University (class of '11). He fell in love with the way delicate changes in room tone and surreal sound design enhance the way films guide the audience. Energized after his nomination for Best Sound Designer at Chapman, he moved through a slew of post internships, including DaneTracks where he shadowed veteran sound designers like Dane Davis (all three Matrix films), and Paul Hackner (Hunger Games, Drive, The Revenant). He observed countless sessions at WB Sound on films like Project X, The Raven and The Twilight series. Informed by that experience, he co-founded MelodyGun with Hamed to facilitate the wide range of sound and music needs in filmmaking. With over 50 film credits and recent sound design nomination for the psychological thriller Dry Blood, he makes it a mission to never stop learning.

MelodyGun.com

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THANK YOU TO OUR BACKERS

We couldn’t have gone this far without you. Our film is picture-wrapped, halfway through editing and our post-production team is signed on. Thank you for all you do and continue to do to support this film.  

Terry & Emma McHugh
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