Saturday, April 26, 2014

Independent Film Festival Boston 2014.01: Beneath the Harvest Sky

Huh, it seems like just days ago that I posted about a coming-of-age film set in extreme northern New England, made by local folks who came to support the screening. Oh, wait, it was!

Ash, but that wasn't opening night at Independent Film Festival Boston, which spans eight days and four venues in as many municipalities, and believe it or not, it wasn't raining when it came time to first stand in line to pick up tickets and then to make it into the theater. I think that's a first for my attending this event.

Run on Sentence

What, no theremin this year? I'm not sure what to make of this. Instead, we had Run On Sentence, the band fronted by Dustin Hamman, who did the music for Beneath the Harvest Sky. Not bad at all, and they were selling CDs in the lobby.

After that, Brian Tamm got up on stage to kick the screening off, introducing Nancy Campbell as the new program director. They were pretty emotional about it - apparently the festival came close to the brink this year, which is a tremendous shame; it's a great festival, so become a member.


Left to right, that's Hamman, co-star Aiden Gillen, and writer/directors Gita Pullapilly & Aron Gaudet. Nice folks, and it's kind of funny that I saw their previous film, The Way We Get By, in Austin during my trip there for South by Southwest, considering how both of these films are Maine-set. I didn't grow up in those parts of Maine - the state being roughly as large as the rest of the region combined, I'm much closer to "home" in Boston than I would be in Bangor, let alone Van Buren - but seeing the first in Texas was kind of odd.

They talked about the usual things - yes, there was a fair amount of improvisation. Some of the more interesting things mentioned were that Emory Cohen arrived in Van Buren early to soak up the area. He didn't quite stay in character throughout but didn't really become the nice Jewish kid from New Jersey again until after shooting was complete. Hamman - who was on set to both scope things out and perform in a little cameo - mentioned that he actually spent some time with Cohen and kind of asked him not to completely break character. Sounds weird to me, but perspectives can leak when making things like this.

I think that was during a sleepover in the run-down house that figures in the movie, and I must admit, that building was kind of the most Maine thing in the film for me, even if characters were describing things as wicked this and wicked that without it sounding put on. There were a few buildings in North Yarmouth that sort of looked like they were only standing because the termites were holding hands, and that one certainly had that feel. Heck, the barn next to the Mill Road house where I grew up was probably one of them.

What else... Oh, yeah, Aiden Gillen talked about how he came to this movie in part because it was work he could fit in between shooting episodes of a TV show (Game of Thrones, I believe) where he had a week or two off. It's a funny thing to hear, because he's playing a significant character who appears throughout the story, so it doesn't seem like he could just drop in and out like that. Makes you respect just how important scheduling is in the movies, as well as how actors often have to jump to different emotional places without the build-up that would come from shooting in sequence (which I think most of us still sort of expect movies to do, even if we know better).

Okay, I'm probably running late for day four now. More later.

Beneath the Harvest Sky

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

If you look at a map of Maine, you'll find that the northern half of the state is primarily a grid of unincorporated rectangular territories without names, with a few slightly more inhabited towns hugging the Canadian border. Growing up in the southern part of the state, I always thought it must be a strange place to live, especially when a family from that area moved to town and had weird French accents. As Beneath the Harvest Sky smoothly depicts, though, it's apparently just like growing up in any other rural town, only more so.

And just like teenagers in small towns everywhere, Casper and Dominic dream of getting out and moving to the big city. Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) is earning money for a car by working on the annual potato harvest, where he's getting close with classmate Emma (Sarah Sutherland). His best friend Casper (Emory Cohen), meanwhile, is helping father Clayton (Aiden Gillen) with the pot-and-pills business, and if that wasn't already enough trouble, it looks like he's knocked girlfriend Tasha (Zoe Levin) up.

In one of the few classroom scenes before the characters are off for harvest break, the characters are discussing something by S.E. Hinton, with Casper being a disruptive jerk, and you don't exactly need a post-film Q&A to figure out that filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly are at least partially inspired by those books and the movies made from them. It's a story about teenagers marking time to an adulthood that doesn't seem to offer much more than their youth although how desperate that makes the various characters is not always what one would expect or how it appears on the surface. That means that the opening stretch can be rough going, featuring as it does several scenes in a row of Casper establishing his bad-boy bona fides much faster than his interesting-person ones, while the necessary establishment of certain adult characters can seem out of place.

Full review at EFC

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