Thommy Kane, a rapper turned filmmaker, behind the camera. Photo courtesy of Thommy Kane

“I could not be better,” says filmmaker Thommy Kane in response to my innocuous initial greeting, continuing, “I don’t know what I did to deserve such an amazing and happy life.”

As our phone interview went on, I started to realize just how powerful and uplifting Kane’s greeting was, as the former rapper (known then as Poverty) turned first-time filmmaker laid out his life story, and the story of his autobiographical short film “New Shoes.”

For Maine music fans, Kane’s name might still ring bells. As rapper Poverty, Kane arose from a teenage life literally on the Portland streets to sign a lucrative record deal. With his music career seemingly poised for the big time, plus a role in the 2006, Tyrese Gibson-starring Hollywood film “Waist Deep,” so was Kane. And then it went away.

“Twenty years ago, I was a homeless kid in Portland,” explained Kane, now a bi-coastal resident of Maine and Los Angeles. “I was at the Oxford Street Shelter, the soup kitchen, at Preble Street all day, drinking the free coffee. Then (Maine music fixture) Dave Gutter heard my songs and introduced me around, I got a manager, a record deal, moved to L.A. When that ended up not working out, I wound up back in Maine, working at the Big Apple in Yarmouth, sleeping in a friend’s basement. Smoking, drinking, eating unhealthy, you name it. I was supposed to be this big rapper. Everyone thought I was going to be famous. From 2009-2017 was the darkest period of my life.”

That’s truly saying something, considering that “New Shoes,” which was selected for The American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the beyond-prestigious Cannes Film Festival, is based on an even more harrowing time in Kane’s early life. Following a young boy (Jacob Moran, “The Black Phone”) living with his drug-addicted mother outside of Boston, the short examines the fiercely loving yet deeply fraught relationship between mother and son, centered on a small-seeming crisis that can set an already teetering family over the edge. Set to go back to school, the boy needs a new pair of shoes.

For Kane, who cleaned up his post-rapping life after seeing a video online from inspirational YouTuber ET, The Hip Hop Preacher, says that that message hit him at just the right time. “I thought, what’s wrong with me? How did I allow this to happen? I had a son, and I felt like I couldn’t take care of him. I felt like a loser.” In Kane’s telling, what came next was a comeback story worthy of a Hollywood training montage.


“I stopped smoking and all the rest of it. I cut out people who weren’t really friends, but just the people I wound up in this nonsense with. In the end, I put together a business plan, got a senior managing partner at (Portland law firm Verrill) to invest, and – boom.” Boom is right, as Kane now not only runs the magazine publishing house Kane Publications (they put out Food & Travel, Style & Fashion, and take plenty of Maine advertising), but has realized his youthful filmmaking dreams in just about the most impressive way possible.

“I wanted to make films since I was 11,” said Kane. “‘Beetlejuice’ is what did it – I came out and asked my mom how you got to write music for the movies like that. Mom didn’t know. She had drug problems and said I’d probably have to go to film or music school, which was just next to impossible for me.” But Kane’s own battle with poverty taught him the resilience to pick his dream back up once he saw a friend in Los Angeles making the 2021 short “Outcry,” starring prolific character actor Mike Starr (“Miller’s Crossing,” “Ed Wood,” among others).

“I was staying with my friend in this big, beautiful house where they were shooting the movie,” explained Kane. “And the director was six years younger than me, and he had Mike Starr, and I found out he was making it for, like, 10 grand. He asked me to score the movie, and it all got me thinking. I’d been writing scripts for a long time – I used to download scripts back in the Geocities days – and had a feature in mind, but it would cost too much. Then Bojan Vanovac (who’d become co-director of ‘New Shoes’) saw two chapters of a book I was writing about my life and said, ‘This has got to be the movie!’”

But for Kane, the idea of turning a very personal and wrenching time in his life up on the big screen was initially a no-go. “I fought him for six months,” said Kane. “I didn’t want my first movie to be about me. But I’m glad I gave in. Seeing such great actors literally doing things that really happened – it’s been cathartic.” (Kane praises young star Moran especially, claiming, “He’s going to be the next Tom Cruise, or Tom Hanks. Jacob’s just wise beyond his years, and a really good kid.”)

Jacob Moran in “New Shoes” Photo by Luc Ung

As for Kane’s mother, who passed away several years ago, the filmmaker says he knows she’d be supportive, regardless of how she came off onscreen. “Mom would have loved it,” says Kane. “She never wavered when it came to telling the truth. For her, the truth was important, whether people wanted to hear it or not. She always said, ‘When you lie, you have to deal with it. When you tell the truth, they have to deal with it.’ I wanted to show all aspects of her, to show that she was not a bad person. I also wanted to show how, as a kid growing up with messed-up parents, it messes you up. You surround yourself with toxic friendships and relationships. I know that, no matter how she looked in the film, my mom would support it.”

For Kane, his first foray into the movie world has been a dizzying one. “Cannes was amazing,” Kane said. “I love Maine, I plan to buy a house back here, but France was the greatest experience of my life. I kept thinking, ‘Here I am, my first ever cinematic project is at Cannes. It’s like starting at the top, and it’s a lot to digest. I deal with a lot of imposter syndrome.”


Imposter syndrome or not, “New Shoes” continues to garner praise at film festivals all over the world, with Kane explaining that he has several follow-up film projects in production – and promising a Portland screening for “New Shoes” in the near future.

“I can’t wait to bring this movie back to Portland,” said the filmmaker. “I never imagined anyone would care, but this is changing my life. I’m so grateful to everyone on the movie, and everyone who’s come up to tell me they loved my movie. I’m just absolutely blessed.”

Learn more about “New Shoes” at, and more about Thommy Kane’s eventful and inspiring life and career at

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

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