“40 West” is the best Maine-made movie I’ve ever seen.

Yeah, I said it.

It’s a gripping tale of a weary singer and recovering alcoholic (star and scriptwriter Jennifer Porter) who finds herself at the mercy of her abusive ex-husband (Brian White) and a mysterious other man (Scott Winters) when she becomes stranded in a seedy Texas motel room. And it features a refreshingly high level of craftsmanship and professionalism from top to bottom.

Apart from the three leads, who are uniformly exceptional, the direction, set design, cinematography and script all mark the film for big things, some of which have already come its way.

Making its Maine premiere at the Nickelodeon Cinema (patriotcinemas.com/nickelodeon.html) tonight, “40 West” has already been singled out for accolades at the likes of the California Film Awards, the Vegas Indie Film Festival, the Lucerne (Switzerland) International Film Festival and others.

I recently spoke to director Dana Packard and Porter, the husband/wife team behind “40 West” and Honeytree Films, about the story’s roots, working with Wayne Newton and turning Maine into rural Texas.

How did you come up with the story?

Porter: Dana and I were on a cross-country trip, and we stayed in a $12-a-night Texas hotel room — it seemed like a great location for a story about what it’d be like to have to depend on someone who did something really bad to you in the past. Strangely enough, I was also sort of inspired by the Santana song “Put Your Lights On.”

How did you turn Maine so convincingly into Texas?

Packard: We built the motel room in the Saco River Grange Hall and used the Salmon Falls Country Club for exteriors; they both have a unique architecture that felt authentically Southern and Texas. It helped that the film is mostly one interior set and that the exteriors were primarily at night. Our original location was west Texas, but we switched it over to eastern Texas, just in case of pine trees. Plus, our cinematographer Ian McGlocklin deserves much of the credit — his work was just amazing at this budget level ($200,000). We couldn’t have done it without him.

Could you talk about your co-stars?

Packard (on White): A lot of actors like to play tough guys, and Brian is kind of a tough guy, but he brought his own menacing spin on it. We were kind of scared of him at the audition, but he put his own spin on it and appreciated Jennifer’s script.

Porter (on Winters, who plays the seemingly gentle, mysterious Elijah): Elijah has to be someone you’d get into a car with, someone you’d trust. Scott embodied that in real life too. (Note: Winters died of cancer soon after the film was completed. He was 51.)

Scott was in remission while filming, but it came back. It’s heartbreaking, but he lived his life to the fullest.

Packard (on singer Wayne Newton, who has a small but pivotal role): We just sent the script to his agent, and he loved the script; he’s a Jennifer fan now. He was gracious, down to earth and professional. The movie shows him in a whole new light — I think you’ll be seeing more of him.

Porter and Packard will be on hand at the Nick at 6:30 and 9 p.m. today to answer questions about “40 West” — which, I think I mentioned, is the best local film I’ve ever seen. Seriously.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


Correction: A photo caption with this story was revised at 4:20 p.m., Jan. 24, 2012, to correctly identify Brian White.


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