JWR Articles: Film/DVD - American Documentary Film Festival (Directors: Hirokazu Kishida, David Redmon) - April 15, 2013
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American Documentary Film Festival

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Fish tales and pride

From a fanciful love story about a fisherman and his incredible “catch of the day” already screened (cross reference below), the American Documentary Film Festival’s cinematic harvest from the sea made port in two different locals and points of view.

Production photo

Cans of Hope
Hirokazu Kishida
2012, 13 min.
Four-and-half stars

Hirokazu Kishida’s thoughtful camera and subtle storytelling captured the horrific aftermath of Japan’s monumental tsunami (March 21, 2011) and artfully washed away some of the incomprehensible grief and upheavals of all sorts using the seemingly simple device of canned mackerel. Once the water had subsided, the survivors of the Kinoya canning company launched a four-month salvage campaign finding, cleaning, selling and shipping tonnes of product.

The first goal was to keep employees busy, fed and productive (any profits stayed with them) before the company had the needed time and necessary resources to get back on its feet.

The dedication, fortitude and pluck of the amazingly resilient workforce was faithfully captured in words (“We’re still in confusion”), deeds (painstakingly wiping away the muck of the, otherwise, still within its “best before” date fish) and human expression (one telling sigh from an otherwise optimistic worker spoke volumes).

Sure, it will take several more years to get back to “normal,” but Kishida’s essay leaves little doubt that the enterprise will once more survive and prosper thanks to the hearty souls who, collectively, stared down adversity the likes of which most of us will never fathom. JWR


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Downeast
David Redmon
2012, 84 min.
Two-and-a-half stars

Also down on their luck, the good citizens of Gouldsboro, Maine—after the last-of-its kind Stinson sardine plant shut down, putting dozens of longtime workers onto the dole—opted to throw their lot in with Italian-American lobster entrepreneur, Antonio Bussone. Having grown disenchanted with Italy and feeling helpless to effect change, Bussone took his cash and vision to this New England hamlet (marvellously in the shadow of Boston) to make an “all or nothing gamble” that he could build a profitable lobster processing business in the retooled sardine emporium.

After all, why should Americans have to send their homarus americanus to Canada only to have the various products shipped back to U.S. restaurants and supermarkets?

The answer?: Local Selectman Dana Rice (also a long-established purveyor of lobster) balked at having a newcomer move in then get taxpayers’ money (a federal employment grant would have to be approved by the town before passing the cash along to Bussone’s company and hire the area’s anxious unemployed).

And so the stage was set for a classic old guard/newbie confrontation only to be thwarted by Redmon’s extra-selective treatment of the facts.

Three issues need work:

  1. Despite his determination and good intentions, Bussone admitted on several occasions that his company, Prospect Harbour Foods, was seriously “underfunded.” Having not fully availed himself of Dragon’s Den-like investors (and who knows what the business plan looked like) it was as foolhardy to keep going (rather like the gambler who is also short of cash but knows that “just one more roll of the dice” will evaporate past losses and put the chronic chance taker once and for all on Easy Street).
  2. As Bussone’s hopes withered (an early-on bounced payment of $90K spoke volumes about the burgeoning company’s pre-sale credit policy), filmmaker and subject alike painted the bankers as the villains. But the “Michael Moore” moment never found its way to the screen—no financiers were interviewed, entrapped or harassed—not even afforded the opportunity to “decline to comment.” Worse: Only in the closing frames did viewers learn that TD Bank from Canada was the uncooperative lender. (Note: TD has a significant U.S. presence—hard to believe Bussone’s “branch” was north of the 49th parallel. Worse still: If Bussone’s aim was to, effectively, get a slice of Canada’s very lucrative lobster processing pie, why on earth wouldn’t he enlist the backing of an American institution?)
  3. The saddest part of all stemmed from the plight of the on-again, off-again employees: “We can’t afford to retire,” was the mantra of many citizens well into their 70s who readily, happily stood for hours (some with hip and/or knee replacements) chopping up the delectable maritime treats.

What an entirely different film this could have been if Redmon—similar to many other doc makers who realize as their project unfolds that its ground is shifting beneath them (cross-reference below) had broadened his scope and dug hard and deep into the faux American Dream (for all participants), rather than the failed businessman whose bankruptcy may have been more self-inflicted than we’ll ever know. JWR

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