Jane Ackerman as Hannah in “Neptune.” Photo courtesy of Strongpaw Productions

“I think this film will resonate with people if they find it.” — Portland filmmaker Allen Baldwin, speaking for independent filmmakers everywhere

“Neptune,” the Baldwin co-produced 2015 film directed by fellow Mainer and co-writer Derek Kimball, is what Baldwin is talking about specifically. And I agree – the Maine-set period piece/coming-of-age story is exactly the sort of movie that the right unsuspecting viewer will pick up and champion. Baldwin, reflecting on the film (which is now available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and “every other major distribution platform”), says that his main selling points when nudging people (and distributors) toward the film have always been “the coast of Maine, (Maine native and rising star) Jane Ackermann’s talent, Derek’s talent, and the cinematography (by Mainers Jason Labozzo and Dean Merrill).” 

And Baldwin and company – or companies, as “Neptune” was made by his Strongpaw Productions and is now being shepherded by The Story Board, the video studio and filmmaking collective he founded with filmmaker Jennifer Widor Smith – has done yeoman work in getting the lowly budgeted “Neptune” into film festivals like Utah’s Slamdance and securing a British screening distributor for its original theatrical run. The question for indie filmmakers is, what happens then?

For Baldwin, Smith and Kimball, that’s meant – unsurprisingly for anyone who knows them – a whole lot of hard work and creativity. In addition to their commercial and professional work (even busier than usual with traditional film production on pandemic hiatus), that means working on the script for “A Winter Table,” Kimball’s followup feature (which received a Sundance Institute fellowship and selection for the Independent Filmmaker Project’s No Borders program). 

But that’s the future. For independent filmmakers whose past project has seemingly come and gone, the decision has to be made whether to let “Neptune” go, or plunge ahead and try to develop an audience (and some revenue) in an overcrowded content marketplace.

“I don’t think this film is dead yet,” says Baldwin. “A film is like this weird, organic, living thing. Sometimes you have to let it die, but sometimes it just needs some nurturing.” 

To that end, Baldwin and Smith have sunk additional Storyboard funds into getting “Neptune” back out into a world that largely never saw it. In addition to iTunes, Amazon and other video-on-demand bigwigs, The Story Board is self-distributing the film’s long-awaited Blu-ray and DVD releases, while the rapidly evolving marketplace for independent film provides even more possibilities. He also notes that the film has signed with film aggregator Quiver, which, among other things, assists indie filmmakers in pitching their projects to places like Netflix. 

Baldwin is forthright about the calculations that went into this second wave of “Neptune’s” cinematic life. After all, life and careers move on for talented indie filmmakers like Baldwin, Kimball and Smith, with Baldwin saying that “Neptune’s” initial critical and festival success “put us in a really good spot.” “Managers will listen to us now,” laughs Baldwin, who says that, for “A Winter Table,” “We’re just short of getting someone to write us a check to make a movie.” 

But there’s moving on, and then there’s seeing the industry move past a good film that never, to Baldwin’s thinking, got the opportunity to win audiences over. Noting that there are “more cracks” in the distribution system than ever before, Baldwin says that it’s still those distributors that are “the gatekeepers” who largely determine what indie films float in the sometimes overwhelming sea of available content. 

“For us, the question became how best to promote ‘Neptune,’” says Baldwin, “what’s affordable but will still give it the amount of resources it deserves.” Noting that the film’s “tiny budget” has still left the father of two with plenty of lingering credit card debt, Baldwin once more summed up the indie filmmaker’s ultimate dilemma, saying, “You don’t want to throw good money after bad, but, in this case, we want to throw good money after good money.” 

The poster for “Neptune.”

Speaking of those aforementioned cracks in the usual path to movie notoriety, Baldwin points to other factors like seeking out reviews on international film blogs (rightly calling the film’s quiet, contemplative charms “continental”), the rise of star Ackermann (Baldwin can’t spill too much, but says watch the coming TV pilot season), and even the popularity of the film’s moody poster, which has found itself on various “best of” lists on the fan review site Letterboxd. Then there’s the internet. “A film like this needs champions,” says Baldwin. “If you have a hundred champions who people know, that’s good. But if you have a thousand champions that no one else has heard of, that’s just as good.”

A pragmatic film professional at heart, Baldwin admits that odds are never on the side of the truly independent American filmmaker. But as a filmmaker genuinely proud of “Neptune,” Baldwin is also putting his shoulder to the wheel one more time on its behalf. Says Baldwin, “I don’t think this film has lived its life yet.” 

You can watch the very deserving “Neptune” everywhere from Apple TV, to Amazon, to Google Play, and where all good indie films are found – if you look hard enough. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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