GETTING REAL Zoe Levin and Emory Cohen in Beneath the Harvest Sky, distributed by Tribeca Film.
Hollywood is approximately 3,233 miles from Old Town. For Aron Gaudet, Old Town native and Maine filmmaker, it seemed even further. “I thought, I can never do what I want to do here,” he says of his home state. “The funny thing is I’ve now made two movies — both in Maine!”
Maine filmmaker Gita Pullapilly struggled with similar frustrations growing up as the only Indian girl in the small college town of South Bend, Indiana. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor, and I didn’t know how to break from that pressure and realize my full potential,” she recalls.
Beneath the Harvest Sky is Pullapilly and Gaudet’s coming-of-age thriller fueled by those teenage dreams and how they clash with the restrictions of small-town life.
It’s set in a town along the Maine-Canadian border and centers on two teenage boys, Caspar (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe). They’ve been best friends all their lives and can’t wait to see this place fade in their rearview mirror. The plan is simple. Pool their earnings together, buy a car, and book it to Boston. Dom makes a steady (and small) wage working the potato harvest, but Caspar doesn’t have the patience for such honest (and difficult) labor. His outlaw dad Clayton (Aiden Gillen) inspires Caspar to pay his share by smuggling drugs over the Canadian border. The juxtaposition of big ambitions versus small-town realities is apparent right from the film’s opening scene, in which the two boys idly peg rocks at a Van Buren water tower. The white behemoth dwarfs the two of them, and their stones make barely audible ping-ping sounds against the metal.
It’s the second full-length film Pullapilly and Gaudet have made together, but they’ve spent over 10 years capturing stories in Maine. In 2009, they released an Emmy-nominated documentary, The Way We Get By, which profiled the Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor. For Harvest Sky they wanted the same documentary feel, but something more authentic to small-town life.
“We knew we wanted to do a coming-of age story, and we wanted it to take place during a potato harvest,” Gaudet says. “Northern Maine is a great setting for that.”
The majority of the footage was shot in Van Buren, with other scenes captured in Frenchville, Grand Isle, Madawaska, Fort Kent, Hamlin, and other towns that dot the Maine-Canada border. All the potato-harvest scenes were shot at the LaJoie Family Farm in Van Buren.
“So much of script came from the research we did in the area,” Gaudet says. “We didn’t know how bad the prescription drug abuse was until we went there.”
While talking with students at a local school, they discovered how easy it was for them to acquire different kinds of pills through dealers and existing smuggling rings. This led to interviews with Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officials and convicts serving time at Houlton Jail for smuggling. At one point Pullapilly and Gaudet secured a perfect location to film a drug-exchange scene — almost too perfect. “Before we could use it, the guy who owned it was arrested for smuggling cocaine,” Pullapilly says.