“The movie’s really a coming-of-age drama about two high school best friends entering senior year. One’s saving up to leave; the other’s going down a bad path toward a troubled future. It’s about whether they’ll stay or go, a question every kid up here goes though — this is a tough place to stay, and a hard place to sustain yourself.”
So says Aron Gaudet about Aroostook County, the setting of his upcoming Maine-made feature film “Blue Potato,” currently shooting in the far north border town of Van Buren. Growing up in Old Town, Gaudet, who grew up in Old Town, was lured back to Maine from New York (along with his wife and co-writer and co-director Gita Pullapilly) by a series of photos his brother took of a Maine potato harvest.
“We drove all over the County and fell in love with Van Buren,” Gaudet said. “It’s a small town, right on the border. We felt a coming-of-age story could work very well up here; 17 in the country is a real crossroads, universal to any kid in any small town, but also specific to this place.”
Fresh off the unqualified success of their documentary “The Way We Get By,” which profiled a group of elderly troop greeters at the Bangor airport, Gaudet and Pullapilly had always dreamed of making features. “Blue Potato,” with its Maine roots (sorry), seemed a natural bridge from their documentary work to narrative film — as long as it was true to life.
“Coming from docs and TV news, our goal was authenticity above all else,” Gaudet said. “Every single location is real, and there are so many great locations up here. We’ve shot in people’s homes, the local school, on the real equipment in the fields. It’s really important to us to find the real moment’s truth in each scene.”
To that end, Gaudet and Pullapilly have augmented their accomplished professional cast (including David Denman of “The Office,” W. Earl Brown of “Deadwood” and Aiden Gillen of “The Wire”) with local talent from Van Buren and all around Maine, including Portland.
Of course, the terms “Maine movie” and “authenticity” automatically evoke the oft-thorny accent question. But Gaudet says “Blue Potato” will benefit from his “from away” actors’ dedication and the unique nature of the region’s language.
“People up here don’t sound like anyone else in Maine,” said Gaudet. “The accent is kind of all over the place, which gives us a little leeway; it’s not like they all have to shoot for that one accent. And we’ve done a lot of audio recordings of locals and sent them to actors. We said from the start that subtle is better; if it doesn’t sound authentic, we’d rather have no accent than one that sounds wrong.”
“Blue Potato” is midway through scheduled filming. Look for it to make the film festival rounds at the start of 2013. After that, maybe the world will get to see a convincing Maine portrait on the big screen — for a change.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.