In Downeast, the Free Market Chokes Like a Noose


In the lovely, melancholy documentary Downeast, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin profile the coastal town of Gouldsboro, Maine, the site of the last operational sardine cannery in the United States until it closed in 2010. The film starts a year later, when Italian businessman Antonio Bussone, of the Boston-based Live Lobster Co., decides to revive the town’s industry and restore jobs by applying for a government grant to turn the empty factory into a lobster processing plant. The desolation caused by the plant’s closure is depicted with stark, structuralist camerawork, but this is not ruin porn, and the filmmakers prioritize letting their subjects speak–at town halls and city council meetings, Gouldsboro’s aging residents assert their concerns as lobster fishermen, afraid that the new plant will force them out of the market–while others are just suspicious of change and outsiders. Meanwhile, Bussone grows more anxious, even as his plan gets off the ground; despite the cash in his account, the bank has begun harassing him, claiming that he’s out of money and threatening to freeze his finances. “Where are the American dreams?” his wife asks. The opening of the lobster plant reunites the “family” of white-haired Gouldsboro sardine-packers, assigned separate duties based on sex, but the fact of their age is inescapable, as are the economic pressures on the factory. Redmon and Sabin carefully tease apart the insidious process of American deindustrialization, and by the end of the film the threads they unravel reveal how the free market can choke like a noose.