Engrossing films transport the viewer to other places, giving insights into the lives of people the viewer may never know or meet. But these are but a few of the many attributes that Beneath the Harvest Sky exhibits. Written and directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, the filmmakers take an obscure geographic corner of America, placing it in the context of the socio-economic tapestry in which we all are mere threads.
Beneath the Harvest Sky is the story of two teenage boys, Casper and Dominic, who live in a small New Hampshire farming town. It is a blue color community in northern Maine whose main industry is potato farming located on the border with Canada at one of the United States’ uppermost latitudes. Throughout the history of borders, there have always been outlaws looking to make a buck by running contraband across the border. In a small town where money and opportunity are at a premium, the criminally-intrepid are always looking for a come up. And this real-life aspect is what Beneath the Harvest Sky brings into focus.
“We wanted to know how do people in towns like this survive,” said Gita, on making the film. “From there we start asking everyone in the community; students, teachers, farmers, the main drug enforcement agencies and we were just really shocked by the fact that there were so many illegal prescription drugs coming over the border. But, also, in this French-Canadian community, this is their way of life.”
Starring Emory Cohen (Place Beyond the Pines), Callan McAuliffe (The Great Gatsby, I am Number Four) and Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Beneath the Harvest Sky is shot in a style that isn’t exactly clean and steady, but instead has the gritty look of a documentary. That “look” adds to the pace and feel.
“Coming from the documentary world, [when] we went into this all we cared about was truth and authenticity,” Gita adds. “When we both said ‘that felt honest’ they had confidence that it did. We had good bullshit meters coming from documentary. The moment we felt like it wasn’t from real life then we reacted accordingly.”
“With our cinematographer we kind of wanted to have things in the foreground, making it a little dirty where you did feel like you were kind of peering through stuff as if you were almost a witness to what was happening,” says Gita’s partner, Aaron Gaudet. “Like, we were dropping you into this world.”
Clean, sleek, fast-paced and eye-catching are but a few of the many attributes of a modern blockbuster film. But independent filmmakers often don’t have the finances or desire to make such offerings. Instead, a premium is placed on acting and story.
“I think there’s a lot of those movies we watch where it’s sort of style over substance and I can watch it and say ‘Oh, it’s nice to look at’, but it’s nothing there,” said Gaudet. “It’s empty. For us, we would like to tell a good story that sticks with you for a little while afterwards. Whether or not you’re remembering the visuals and you’re like ‘Oh, it moved me in some way’.”
As is the case with most well-conceptualized cinematic offerings, Beneath the Harvest Sky has several themes intertwined therein to keep the viewers on their toes. The relationship between friends Casper and Dominic, Casper’s relationship with his criminal-minded father, his father’s relationship with his younger brother Badger, and Casper’s relationship with his girlfriend Tasha, played by Zoe Levin, provide a layered story arc that draws the viewer in.
“For us, layered stories are important,” said Gita. “It’s not about ‘These are two kids that are best friends and are going off into life’. We get that story, it’s been told a hundred times. That’s not our job. Our job is to tell the story that hasn’t been told.”
As is the case in depressed communities across the nation, the leading protagonist, Casper, is looked upon by school administrators as something of a tough guy, an unredeemable social pariah, because of his background and social standing.
“By the time you’re in the third grade the teachers already know if you’re going to succeed or not because they know your family, they know where your family comes from and they’ve already judged you,” said Gaudet. “It’s one of those small towns and you spend your whole life going to school there.”
Beneath the Harvest Sky is a slow moving film. But that pace doesn’t mean it’s boring. The deliberate movement of the storyline, and the growth of the characters within, represents a delectable cinematic experience that engages the viewer to the point where these characters who live in a world that he or she normally would bypass become near and dear to us by the film’s end. Beneath the Harvest Sky, is an eye-opening and sobering look at the hopelessness of small town life in modern America.
Since being an official selection at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival, May openings have been scheduled in towns, small and large, across the country focusing mostly the Midwest and Northeast.
See the trailer here: