Tribeca Film Festival: Downeast

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Out with the sardines, in with the lobster: “Downeast” chronicles the transition from cannery to processing plant.

BY RANIA RICHARDSON  |  At a time when manufacturing jobs are moving out of the U.S. or disappearing altogether, the entrepreneur who attempts to open a local plant is a hero. In “Downeast,” a new documentary by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (“Mardi Gras: Made in China,” “Kamp Katrina”), that hero is Antonio Bussone — an Italian immigrant who envisions a former Maine sardine cannery reconfigured as a lobster processing plant.

In 2010 the last sardine was packed in the U.S., in that very space. Now the work is done across the border in Canada or overseas. By rehiring the workers who were laid off from the cannery, Bussone brings hope to the small coastal town of Gouldsboro, Maine, where many of the elderly citizens can’t afford to retire.

In hairnets, white coats and rubber boots, senior workers stand all day at factory tables picking meat out of lobster claws and knuckles quickly and efficiently, with the expertise that comes from 30 or more years in the seafood industry. Bussone sees his orders increase and customers report that the lobster is “the best they’ve ever had.” But it’s not all smooth sailing. Bussone has a rival by the name of Dana Rice, a competing lobsterman and a selectman in the town.

Rice opposes a federal grant that will keep the plant operational, despite a unanimous vote in favor, by the community.  With a New England accent out of an old Pepperidge Farm commercial, Rice holds his ground against the critical relief fund.

Who will win the battle?  Bussone sees business as a form of self-expression, and takes the clash personally. No doubt that Rice has similar feelings. In the last decade, millions of U.S. manufacturers have shuttered, and without a lifeline in the form of financing, this will be one of them.

Feature Documentary
Directed by David Redmon & Ashley Sabin
Runtime: 76 Minutes
Sat. 4/28, 9:45pm at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea

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