Wednesday, April 23, 2014


IFFB 2014 opened tonight with BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY, a beautiful film about Casper and Dominic, best friends growing up in a farming town on the Canadian border, and a Harvest Week that changes their lives. The week off from school in Van Buren, Maine is an opportunity for Dominic to make some money working on the potato harvest, while Casper earns by working for his father, who's in the business of smuggling drugs across the border. The boys have a pact of sorts: pool the money they make to leave this small nowhere dead-end town and make their way in the world. Alas, the people closest to each of them all seem intent on keeping them there, one way or another.

The directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, soundtrack artist Dustin Hamman, and co-star Aidan Gillen (Tommy Carcetti of THE WIRE) were present for Q&A after and the directors mentioned their hope/goal was to make the kind of film that they grew up loving, a STAND BY ME or THE OUTSIDERS, that just doesn't seem to be made these days. I think they've succeeded in creating an heir to those films. Something true to the relationships of those films, but different in style, and excellent in style. The directors' previous work has been documentary, and that seems to inform what they've created in HARVEST SKY. It feels real.

It doesn't hurt any that Emory Cohen, who plays Caspar, is remarkable in his role. I think the proper critical non-hyperbolic hyperbole would be "a revelation." The directors explained that most people on set called Emory—or only knew him as—Caspar. Musician Dustin Hamman shared a story about spending a night in one of the film locations with Caspar, and when Emory, apparently ready to break character, offered to tell Dustin his real name. Dustin replied something like, "No, man. That's okay. I don't want to know." Why mess with the mojo, right?

Emory is really frickin good.

In power (please excuse the vague term) and style, casting and performances, minutes in, the film reminded me of WINTER'S BONE. It wasn't a deja vu thing in any way, and it really only crossed my mind once, but for me there's something sympathetic between the two films. Or at least my memory of them. Would make for a very satisfying double feature, if you're feeling up to some darkness with your coming-of-age stories.

The directors announced that the film will be playing for a week at the Coolidge Corner theater. Yes, it is already available via iTunes and Amazon Prime, but if you can, please grab a friend or three and see it on the big screen together. So very worth it.

Some dopey asides, more for me to remember than for anyone else's illumination. There are some not-super-important spoilers, so skip/stop reading if you'd rather not know some details before seeing the film…

Love that Casper and Dominic are reading S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS for English class. Also love that the teacher brought up the "Jim twins" for the lesson. I wanted to ask (but of course didn't/chickened out) if it was always THE OUTSIDERS in the script. When the movie started, I wasn't thinking of it along those lines, but having the book in there, as part of the fabric of the film, connected a dot for me and I like it.

Casper's parting shot at his teacher at the end of that scene is pretty perfect, too.

I love the strong show-don't-tell-ness of the film. No doubt it plays a big part in achieving the real-ness of the film. We are given… shown… allowed to see and hear… traces of things, glancing blows of conversations and events, bits and pieces that almost subliminally build character and relationships. I really dig that.

The directors mentioned that they took indie potato farming as a metaphor for indie filmmaking. At the end of the harvest, the potatoes get trucked off by Terra Chips. When I was eavesdropping on the directors after Q&A, someone congratulated them on getting distribution with Tribeca Films, and I dropped a wee clunker: if the potato farming in the film represents independent filmmaking, then is Tribeca your Terra Chips?

While the film was playing, I saw the focus on the potatoes to be a way of marking time during Harvest Week. Later, I kinda took the potatoes to be the boys, and maybe the small town residents in general. Not a perfect parallel, but you can sort of talk your way into it. To grow big potatoes you want to kill of their flowers, so they don't leech nutrients from the tubers (educational!). Once grown, they are harvested and shipped away from the place where they are grown. That's the best case scenario, I guess. The worst case: you get picked and chucked into Casper's potato cannon. Heh.

Keep on keepin on~

P.S. Hey, me!—Do not forget the image of Dom's harvest friend walking alone on the train tracks into the sunset, all aglow. And the times we see her see him when he doesn't. Wonderful stuff.

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