Published May 04, 2012In 2010, the last large sardine cannery in the United States – the Stinson Seafood plant in Gouldsboro, Maine – closed its doors after 135 years in operation, leaving 128 people out of work and the local economy devastated. One would assume that in the current economic climate if someone wanted to intervene and try to help the small north-eastern town by opening a new plant, there would be no resistance. Alas, Ashley Sabin and David Redmon's experiential documentary, Downeast, proves otherwise.
In the fall of 2011, Italian immigrant Antonio Bussone (president and CEO of Live Lobster Co.) bought the abandoned factory and decided to convert it into a lobster processing plant. A large portion of the lobsters caught in America are being sent to Canada to be processed, which Bussone believed was ridiculous and that processing should be done at home, something many viewed as revolutionary in the industry. He also wanted to employ those laid off by the former sardine plant, many of whom were elderly and, in most lines of work, too old to hire.
When asked to approve a substantial federal grant to allow the new processing plant to get underway, the town council goes against the unanimous vote of the townspeople and overrides their wishes. Conveniently, the town council and its mayor are made up of local lobster dealers unwilling to share their lucrative territory with an outsider. We're given a firsthand account from both sides on the matter, as well as Bussone's struggles to stay afloat in an otherwise doomed situation.
Sabin and Redmon get right into the thick of things with this beautifully shot documentary, capturing the spirit of this small fishing town and its people from an objective eye. Even more visually stimulating are scenes showcasing the processing plant, where a seemingly endless stream of red lobsters is pushed through at a near hypnotic pace while predominantly elderly workers process the shellfish at a youthful pace.
Sadly, since we all know the direction the economy has taken, it comes as no surprise that more than 132,000 factories have left the USA since 2001, resulting in the loss of more than six million American jobs. Downeast is more than just a story about a small town; it is a greater metaphor for what has been happening in America. (Carnivalesque)