#299: CPH:DOX – Downeast (2012)

Following their horror-show snippet at the corrupt modelling industry in Girl Modeldocumentary duo David Redmon and Ashley Sabin return to CPH:DOX festival with their latest non-fiction project, Downeast. Smaller and therefore more emotionally attached, it chronicles one altruistic businessman’s plight to turn a town’s financial turmoil into a goldmine.

Gouldsboro is a peculiar little place, the sort of town that politicians, money and culture have left behind. An old fishing town in Maine, it was the home of the last sardine cannery in the US. The close of the factory has left Gouldsboro in a state of disrepair, with the predominantly old population out of work and out of pocket. Hoping to strike gold in the town is an Italian entrepreneur named Antonio Bussone, who sets out to work with Maine’s many lobster trawlers and open up a local meat processing plant, undercutting the current system of outsourcing to Canada. Putting Maine back on the map, getting the townsfolk back in work, and generating profit, it’s a savvy idea. Unfortunately for Antonio, the intolerant local government and tight-fisted bank try to do everything in their power to quash his plans.

A relatively gloomy subject matter, Sabin and Redmon are lucky that they find such an immeasurably likeable character in Antonio. Intelligent, driven and approachable, he is determined to make the business work, sacrificing everything, he sells off his properties, seeks loans and dismisses his critics (including the stubborn council afraid of ‘foreign control’ and his naysaying wife).  Antonio is a type of business personified which we hardly ever see projected on the big screen: a genuine do-gooder, humanist and, to his aged, hardworking and optimistic employees, a friend. Even if Downeast is often a depressive watch, Antonio brings some well-appreciated heart to the grave tale of suburban austerity.

It may seem like a specific, acquired interest documentary, but Downeast toys with universally renowned themes of work ethic, societal change and the tough economical climate we’re still in the midst of. Rather than aggressively impose this allegory, Sabin and Redmon embody a laidback, quasi-classical documentary style. Gaining filmmaking authorship not by goading on the fraught situation, but by letting the sequence of events unfurl at their own coincidental pace.

Even if it ends in narratively murky, “to be continued” territory (let’s be honest, the aftermath of the financial crash is far from over), you’ll appreciate watching Downeast. A few aside comments from the seventy plus factory girls, it’s hardly an entertaining documentary, but it’s certainly an important one.

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Here’s the audio recording of a Q&A session I hosted with filmmakers’ David Redmon and Ashley Sabin at this year’s CPH:DOX festival. Lovely people. Check out their production company Carnivalesque Films for more info.

CPH:DOX is one of the world’s biggest film festivals dedicated to documentary practice, with an interest in particularly experimental audio/visual work. You can follow all of my coverage here. For more info please visit the festival website.

2 thoughts on “#299: CPH:DOX – Downeast (2012)

  1. It may be worth looking into what happened in Maine after Bussone left, if you’ve come away from this film feeling that altruism was the sole motive and that the town council was “intolerant” without cause.

    • Hi, riveratlantic.

      I’ve been told by director David Redmon that he is currently working on a follow-up documentary, intending to explore the aftermath of Bussone’s departure. He’s a fascinating character, as are the local townsfolk.

      Are you from the area? It would be interesting to get your personal insight.

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