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November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013)

Directed by Aron Gaudet and Kavita Pullapilly

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) are best buds since forever. Counting the days they graduate or drop out of high school, the two burnouts do the best that they can in their rural Maine town across from the Canadian border: Make out with girls, chug beer, chase moose and deal a little drugs on the side. They dream of saving up enough money to move to Boston in order to see the Red Sox play. Dominic’s dad Clayton, (Aidan Gillen from “Game of Thrones”) has a somewhat lucrative illegal prescription drug business on the side, and he’s intent on schooling his son on the ways of this world, or in his words, being “spokes in a fucked-up wheel.” In the meantime, Dominic’s creepy uncle “Badger” (Timm Sharp) is working with law enforcement authorities to send Clayton up the river. Casper and Dominic have their hopes and dreams, but good things never come out of these types of scenarios. It all comes crashing down violently – who will live to see another day?

Beneath the Harvest Sky brings back memories of Winter’s Bone (2010), another film about the desperation felt in rural America. Harvest Sky is relentlessly grim and depressing, but always leaves room for the characters to pull themselves together. The teenage protagonists, who learn their lessons at a very high cost, that there are ample choices in life and you must have the courage to do what you feel is right. Beneath the Harvest Sky, shot with hand-held cameras evokes an atmosphere of unsteady lives against a stark, unforgiving country backdrop.

The one bright spot offered to the boys is the “harvest time” where they can elect to work on the local potato farm, in this case the LaJoie Farm in Vanburen, Maine. The farm produces the “blue potato” used in Terra Chips. It’s here that the teens roll up their sleeves and get paid for an honest day’s work. Some become “harvest friends,” and those who participate get a better chance at leaving their hometown for wider opportunities.

It is here that the film revels its agenda. Beneath the Harvest Sky is in fact funded by the LaJoie Farm, and the movie is revealed in its extras section as being little more than a blatant promotional piece. As an example, one female student Tasha (Zoe Levin) following her time on the farm is then taken by her parents to pick out a suitable college. Beneath the Harvest Moon goes from being a gritty rural drama to a propagandistic commercial for LaJoie Farms, whose nutritional contribution to the world is potato chips!

The Blu-Ray includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes (which include two fine dramatic turns from actress Carrie Preston who plays Dominic’s mom – a pity), as well as “Terra Chips Presents: Inside the LaJoie Farm” and “Terra Chips Presents: Behind the Scenes,” two hard-sell promotional pieces pushing the film’s agricultural sponsor. Director Gaudet and Pullapilly are shown nodding their heads and saying in robotic fashion how great LaJoie Farms is. The project’s agenda becomes uncomfortably clear in these segments.

Beneath the Harvest Sky can be appreciated as a hard-hitting drama about the nation’s rural poor. Just skip the promo materials and you’ll be just fine.   

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