The first thing that will likely strike any Mainer who watches Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s film “Beneath the Harvest Sky” is that it really does look like Maine. Aroostook County, to be exact, in and around the town of Van Buren.
That’s partly because, unlike the majority of films that purport to be set in Maine, the pair actually filmed their movie in the state. Those long northern skies, rolling farmlands, unfussy living rooms and beat up old pickup trucks are all real, and they imbue a sense of authenticity to the film, a sense that starts with the very first scene and continues right through to the end.
The film, out now on video on demand and in select Maine theaters on April 25, tells the story of two friends, Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe), nearing the end of high school in a town much like Van Buren. If you grew up in Maine, you know these kids. You went to pit parties with them. You dug potatoes or raked blueberries or worked at the grocery store with them. Maybe your cousin dated them for a summer.
Casper and Dom want to leave town as soon as school is over — a theme constant among many Maine high school seniors in rural communities. Dom goes out to work the potato harvest, where he meets the sweet and ambitious Emma (Sarah Sutherland), and hopes to save enough money to buy a car and eventually head south for Boston.
Casper opts for a more lucrative but far more dangerous option: working with his Dad, Clayton (Aiden Gillen), who is scheming to control drug smuggling operations along the Maine-Canada border. Casper’s uncle, Badger (Timm Sharp) isn’t living up to Clayton’s expectations, so father hopes to put son into position as his second in command. Casper’s involvement in his father’s dangerous line of business — and his personal problems with his manipulative girlfriend Tasha (Zoe Levin) — have explosive consequences.
Both Cohen and McAuliffe ably inhabit their characters; Cohen in particular manages to convincingly put on a St. John Valley accent, with its unique cadence and colloquialisms. His Casper is a young man full of anger, which he acts out on in sometimes destructive ways. It underscores the fact that despite the authentic-feeling regional specificities of the film, it’s still a movie about two boys, coming of age in a small town.
Gaudet and Pullapilly’s script is often heartbreaking, especially if you grew up in an economically depressed town in Maine. The frustration that builds can be palpable, and the desire to escape to somewhere else, anywhere else is often too strong to resist. The fact that Dom chooses to to stick with the potato harvest and Casper decides to start pushing pills as means of facilitating that escape is indicative of those problems these small towns face. Gaudet and Pullapilly illustrate the world they live in with sensitivity, intelligence and authenticity.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” will be shown Friday, April 25, at Bangor Mall Cinemas, Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland, Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Reel Pizza Cinerama in Bar Harbor, Caribou Theatres, the Alamo Theatre in Bucksport, the Temple Theatre in Houlton and the Colonial Theatre in Belfast; May 9 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland; and May 21 at the Stonington Opera House. For information, visit beneaththeharvestsky.com. The Bangor Daily News is hosting the Bangor Mall Cinemas premiere — visit bdnmaineevents.com/contests for a chance to win tickets.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” contains adult language, violence and sexual and drug-related scenes.