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Capturing the County Beneath the Harvest Sky'

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Capturing the County  Beneath the Harvest Sky' Photo courtesy: Steven Capitano Calitri

Telling a story about a place while capturing that place's true essence can be difficult, especially when you're dealing with somewhere that has a vast number of social and cultural idiosyncrasies.

But that's just what filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly have tried to do with their feature debut 'Beneath the Harvest Sky,' filmed on location in Aroostook County right here in Maine. They strived to capture the assorted quirks of small-town life in northern Maine in a manner that is both engaging and honest. It's no easy feat.

A feat that they certainly managed to accomplish.

Dominic Roy (Callan McAuliffe, 'The Great Gatsby') is a teenager growing up in northern Maine. He's taken to the potato fields to help with the harvest in hopes of making enough money to escape his sadly struggling hometown of Van Buren. His best friend Casper (Emory Cohen, TV's 'Smash') is a noted troublemaker, viewed by many as an anchor dragging Dominic down.

Meanwhile, Casper's father Clayton (Aiden Gillen, TV's 'Game of Thrones') is making his living outside the law. He, along with Casper's Uncle Badger (Timm Sharp, TV's 'Enlightened'), does a brisk trade in illicit prescription drugs. However, he's looking to go bigger and hatches a scheme to smuggle pills across the Canadian border.

All Dominic wants is to make enough money to buy a car so he and Casper can fulfill their dream of moving to Boston and leaving Van Buren behind. However, the ties that bind are rarely so easily cut. Both Dom and Casper are forced to confront the obstacles that come with growing up and moving on confrontations that meet with decidedly varied degrees of success.

Gaudet and Pullapilly are best known for their 2009 documentary 'The Way We Get By,' about the troop greeters at Bangor International Airport. While that movie is certainly an outstanding example of documentary filmmaking, making a feature like 'Beneath the Harvest Sky' is a whole different bag of potatoes.

Happily, the transition is an undisputedly successful one.

What Gaudet and Pullapilly have done is capture a spirit of place; their Van Buren bears a striking resemblance to our Van Buren. Obviously, much of that springs from filming on location the movie was filmed in the County but mere geography can only accomplish so much. What really elevates 'Beneath the Harvest Sky' is the honesty of its story; there's a bluntness of truth that is nevertheless unwaveringly respectful not to mention nicely evocative - of both the place and its people.

There are some outstanding performances here. McAuliffe is fantastic as Dominic; his portrayal of a teenager's hopes for the future is equal parts eagerness and anxiety. That balance imbues the character with some really engaging depth. And Cohen's Casper is a County kid through and through, a force of nature whose rough edges conceal an unwavering love and loyalty for those who truly matter to him. The dynamic between McAuliffe and Cohen is the foundation of the film; their relationship is bedrock.

Gillen is exquisitely slimy as Clayton while still bringing a richness to the character; he could have easily come off as one-dimensional, but Gillen deepens him beautifully. Sharp brings a wealth of nervous energy to Badger, portraying a man who is never fully at ease with his choices. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes such notables as Sarah Sutherland (TV's 'Veep'), Zoe Levin ('The Way Way Back'), Carrie Preston (TV's 'True Blood'), W. Earl Brown ('Knights of Badassdom'), David Denman (TV's 'Parenthood') and Tim Simons ('Draft Day'), is uniformly excellent. 

(Those with friends and relatives from up that way might even see a familiar face or two, as the filmmakers used plenty of locals in smaller parts and as extras.)

If you have a connection with the state of Maine, 'Beneath the Harvest Sky' will undoubtedly resonate with you. However, that connection isn't at all necessary for one to enjoy this movie - it's an excellent film no matter what criteria you choose to use. 

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