Hot Docs Review: Downeast [David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, May 1, 2012]

Baltimore – We are all familiar with the disappearing agricultural facet of our society: the youth-drain in farming and fishing communities, the increasingly jarring difference between reality and our idea of food production/consumption, and the inevitable social movements that follow that uncomfortable thought. More and more, agriculture recedes into the background and becomes an autonomic part of our?consciousness. The arithmetic of a small population of agricultural workers and a tanking capitalist economy can’t be pretty. Downeast is the account of the drive of a Boston-based businessman to start a lobster packaging factory in the ashes of a shut-down sardine packing plant.

The film starts out very simply – Antonio Bussone, an Italian-immigrant, has been carefully amassing the funding to build and operate a lobster plant in Gouldsboro, Maine. He wants to take over the abandoned Stinson sardine plant, under this very laudable reasoning: the community has been devastated by the economic ice age, and he wants to help. There are few young workers left and the aging population knows little else, the federal government is willing to offer subsidy, and there is still room among fast-growing Canadian competitors in the lobster packaging market. It sounds like the perfect, win-win pitch. But alas, the town selectmen (councillors) does not agree with him. In fact, not a few of them are wholly against the idea. So, without the town council’s and the federal government’s blessing, Antonio tries his best to push through the tough waters, meeting financial woes and unfriendly locals head-on, to a not-surprising end of what could have been a great business as well as community-saving adventure.

What really struck me the wrong way was not the unnecessary bureaucracy during such a difficult time, or the conservative banking behaviors. Frankly, I expected the cheques to bounce, the payment to lag behind labor, the banks to freeze their business accounts, and the pitiless investors to withdraw at the first sign of weakness.?It was the prideful, xenophobic and short-sighted display from the town selectmen that really perplexed me. Antonio really never had a chance, because these men had vested interest and liked nothing better than nepotism and scorched-earth tactics. I found it totally bewildering that a councillor has the wherewithal, especially in a small town where the lives of each person is by definition so much more interwoven with another’s, to deny the spoken will of the people he claimed to represent. And to do so in directly in front of his constituency. Of course, it helped that the directors had contrasted this with Bussone. The “American by choice” spoke humbly about a will to make things better for everyone, banked with his own house on credit, and should practically be beatified when compared to the business stereotypes. It is an interesting explanation as to why some of these communities have folded easily while other thrive despite troubling-times. “Help me help you” is sometimes tougher than it sounds. I recommend watching this if you don’t care that I have basically dissected it tail, claw, and knuckle like a lobster.

Downeast will be screened again on May 5th, 11AM @ the ROM.

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Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews

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