Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Downeast tells the story of the aftermath of the closing of the United States’ last sardine canning factory in Gouldsboro, Maine. With the factory’s workforce unemployed–and because of many of their advanced ages, unemployable– an Italian immigrant arrives with the goal of turning the old facility into a lobster processing plant and putting them back to work.
There’s a lot at stake in David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary for these Maine townspeople and yet unfortunately they are oddly lost in the shuffle. Instead the focus is on Italian businessman, Antonio Bussone’s fight against the town elders (would-be lobster competitors) and the red tape preventing him from access to federal funding to keep his factory afloat. This often times translates to many scenes of him doing deals over the phone in his office or scrolling through bank accounts on his computer. This is not very interesting to watch and even confusing as he laments negative balances while the factory is still up and operating. One wonders if he ever clued his rehired employees into how badly off he was.
Where the film shines is when it focuses on the lifelong employees of the Stinson sardine cannery. You sense a real camaraderie between, for example, three ladies sitting together comparing how many years each worked there (all thirty years or more). There’s a wonderful scene where three elderly ladies, adjusting from the shift of canning already-dead sardines to starting with live lobsters, debate whether or not the lobsters feel much pain in the process. It’s charming, if slightly macabre. We also get to meet a salty old lobster fisherman named Sherman who doesn’t care for town politics and only cares who will pay him the most for his catch. These are all great personalities I wish the film would have stayed with longer instead of the businessman.
It is also often in these scenes where the film is most interesting visually. The seemingly endless supply of shiny red lobster shells is shuffled through the plant hypnotically while the workers go at an amazing pace. It’s a great contrast from Bussone’s sterile office dealings. Unfortunately that office is really where the success of this factory project lives or dies and in the end the fate of the workers is left sadly unresolved.
Upcoming TFF Screenings of “Downeast”:
Sat. 4/21 – 1pm, AMC Loews Village 7-2
Tues. 4/24 – 7:30pm, Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 9
Sat. 4/28 – 9:45pm, Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 8