Blake Wright and Mariah Larocque in “Dole Mates.” Photo courtesy of Daniel Chaimowtiz

As the pandemic years grind on, it’s been interesting to see how our reality has seeped into our entertainment. While stories about the pandemic itself aren’t exactly what escapism-minded viewers are flocking to (sorry, Judd Apatow’s “The Bubble”), the impact of a worldwide medical emergency, with all its attendant fear and isolation, inevitably becomes just another fact of big-screen life. In fact, this nightmare has gone on so long now that Portland filmmaker Dan Chaimowitz is counting on viewers of his latest film, “Dole Mates,” to be a little … nostalgic?

“I’ve had the title for years,” said Chaimowitz, helpfully explaining that the “dole” of the title refers to the British term for going on unemployment. “It was always some kind of story about unemployed people having to live together, but it never quite came together.” That is, until COVID showed up.

“Dole Mates” tells the story of a young couple (Mariah Larocque and Blake Wright) who, after hooking up one Saturday night right at the beginning of the pandemic, are forced to quarantine together for 28 days in Wright’s apartment. Losing their jobs due to enforced isolation is merely the start of their tribulations in this strange new world, with the pair having to learn how to live alongside someone they’ve just met.

For Chaimowitz, a veteran screenwriting instructor at the University of Southern Maine, those first, disorienting days of lockdown at least provided him with the hook his long-simmering story needed.

“Everyone at USM was sent home,” recalled Chaimowitz, “and the two leads of the film (who are also a real-life couple) were living together in Bangor at the time. Initially, we started out to make it into a web series, doing everything remotely, with no crew. But, after we’d filmed a couple of episodes, we liked what we were getting, but decided we needed a bigger scope, so I fashioned it into a feature.”

Chaimowitz, whose first film, the Portland-shot love story “The Opposite of Cleveland” streamed on Amazon last year (“I made about five dollars,” he jokes), drew upon his fruitful association with his USM students in making “Dole Mates.” Apart from Larocque (USM class of 2021) and Wright (class of 2020), the film’s director of photography is fellow 2020 grad Angie Dubois. Chaimowitz also cites the support of Maine-based crew members Garrick Hoffman, Zach Wheaton and Wright’s filmmaking partner, Henry Riley, in bringing “Dole Mates”’ claustrophobic tale to cinematic life. He’s also effusive about the producing skills of his wife, Brenda, who forms the other half of their DBC Productions, LLC. Especially since, like “The Opposite of Cleveland,” “Dole Mates” was funded entirely from early withdrawals from their shared retirement account. “I promised I’m never doing that again,” said Chaimowitz.


In addition to those Maine talents, the filmmaker is also proud to have assembled a soundtrack made up of all-Maine artists, with “Dole Mates” boasting songs from such local music scene regulars as Sparxsea, The Side Chick Syndicate, Mouth Washington, Midnight Breakfast, Andi Fawcette & Doubting Gravity, SnugHouse, Sparks the Rescue, Jeigh, Andy Happel and Mariah Larocque herself. (The multi-talented Larocque just came off a year of representing Maine in the Miss America Pageant. She was Miss Congeniality.)

Still, the film’s structure, and Chaimowitz’s ties to so many young and talented Maine actors, musicians and filmmakers, allowed the director to get plenty of production value into his “no-budgeted” movie. (“Dole Mates” came in under $25,000 total.)

“In some ways, making the film in such a confined space was easier,” said Chaimowitz. “It was designed that way, and we filmed for 10 days last August at our house.”

As Chaimowitz explains of the film’s isolated environment, “the production design (of character Owen’s bedroom) essentially becomes a character and a metaphor for Owen’s internal relationship struggles. It also allowed us to control costs with minimal locations and setups.”

Chaimowitz also cites the story’s timeframe as crucial to the themes of “Dole Mates,” saying, “It’s that first weekend, when everything changed. It almost makes it nostalgic – these two people meet on Saturday that first weekend before everything shut down, and then they’re stuck together for 28 days.”

That’s an evocative number, as Chaimowitz notes, both for a rom-com (think Sandra Bullock) and a story taking place at the beginning of a viral outbreak. (Think “28 Days Later,” but without the rage-zombies.)

With “Dole Mates” already being accepted to The International New York Film Festival, Chaimowtz has high hopes for his second directorial effort. “We finished up about a month ago, and decided to focus on film festivals that have categories for ‘no-budget’ films, thinking that they can understand certain production values. That said, ‘Dole Mates’ looks great, thanks to Angie, who’s just a terrific (director of photography). We thought about how to make it all look cinematic, changing up the look of the room, and the actors. (Mariah did her own hair and makeup). So even though they spend their time all in that one room, it really looks terrific.”

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

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