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Downeast: Film Review

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David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary depicts the frustrated efforts to revive a local business and put employees back to work.

In 2010, Stinson Seafood — located in Gouldsboro, Maine and the last remaining sardine cannery in the United States — went out of business and put more than a 100 people, many of them septuagenarians, out of work. But that’s just the dramatic starting point for , Ashley Sabin and David Redmon’s () moving and timely documentary.

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A microcosm of the misguided political and social forces that often result in the loss of small businesses and jobs, the film concerns the efforts of Antonio Bussone, an Italian immigrant, to open a lobster processing plant in Stinson’s place and rehire many of its workers. But he soon finds himself battling against an array of obstacles that threaten to derail the operation before it can even get started.

Hinging on a $250,000 federal grant, the plan arouses the ire of local officials, including a councilman who happens to be a lobster dealer with whom the proposed factory would be in direct competition.

While the bureaucratic machinations and small-town politics chronically occasionally border on tedious, the filmmakers thankfully invest the proceedings with much-needed human drama in the form of such moments as elderly female workers debating whether or not lobsters feel pain; a lobster fisherman bemoaning the restrictive regulations concerning the size of his catches (“I can keep him!,” he exuberantly declares after measuring one specimen); and Bussone’s growing despair as the bank begins threatening to freeze his assets.               

It’s a small story, but with big ramifications, especially considering the gaping political divide that separates the country. Congressmen of all stripes would be well advised to see it, although their interpretations will inevitably and sadly differ.


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