In the unforgiving winter of an economically struggling northern Maine town, a tired school bus driver makes one small but tragic mistake, bringing the already fragile community into crisis.
That’s the setup for “Bluebird,” the acclaimed, award-winning independent drama which screens at the Portland Museum of Art on Friday and Sunday in advance of the film’s national release (in theaters and online streaming).
Featuring a stellar cast including John Slattery (“Mad Men”), Amy Morton (“Chicago P.D.”), Margo Martindale (“The Americans”), and Adam Driver (Girls”), it’s a uniquely Maine story close to the heart of director, writer, and Kennebunk native Lance Edmands.
I spoke to him from his home in Brooklyn.
To be honest, it started with the place. [The film was shot in Millinocket and Lincoln.] I always wanted to make a movie there. I felt like the town, and Maine in general, has a great, mythological tradition of telling stories – Thoreau, Stephen King, Native American tales. It’s a dark yet beautiful setting, ripe to set a contemporary drama in. There’s an inherent drama about the place – incredibly beautiful, remote, with a stillness to the air, but there’s something scary about it, being so isolated. And what’s going on economically, with the paper mills shutting down one-by-one, and communities figuring out how to reconfigure their economies, in a way. Mainers have a strong work ethic and sense of community, and the people [in “Bluebird”] are holding onto that while changing at the same time. Plus [mirroring the central event of the film], my brother was actually left on a school bus as a kid, and the moment really stuck with me. As the older brother, it was my job to make sure he got off the bus and I didn’t do it that day. The moment always stuck with me – just a little rip in the daily routine, a little lapse in memory. It can tear apart something that’s always so fragile.
John Slattery’s from Boston, Amy’s from Chicago – these are hardy actors, used to getting up and scraping off their windshields. And everyone in town knew we were there. It’s as small community – there are only a couple of bars…you end up rubbing shoulders with everyone. We filmed in the real high school, the police chief cleared out of his office so we could film there for a day. It was nice to be there, because at the end of the day, we couldn’t just go to our comfy apartments and forget about it.
There were offers to film it in places like upstate New York, but it was written about this place specifically. Film it somewhere else and the motive behind it would start to disappear. And while there’s no tax credit, there’s a community here that’s totally open – the connection to the community is less expensive in that way. It’s not an easy sell, when places like Massachusetts and Canada have tax credits to film there, but [“Bluebird”] was such about the place for me. I wish Maine would do something about it, but I didn’t want to be that guy. The biggest resources here are the beauty – if Maine made it easier, more films would come for sure.
“Bluebird” screens at the Portland Museum Of Art at 6:30 p.m. Friday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Writer/director Lance Edmands and producer Kyle Martin will be on hand for a Q&A after each screening. In addition, they are leading a free filmmaking workshop at the Museum at 2 p.m. Saturday where they’ll share their experience, and their advice with local filmmakers and/or anyone just interested in indie moviemaking.
Nickelodeon Cinema | (www.patriotcinemas.com)
Friday: “What We Do In The Shadows.” From director Taika Waititi and star Jemaine Clement (“Flight Of The Conchords”) comes this vampire comedy from New Zealand about a trio of centuries-old bloodsuckers whose attempts to simply hang out in modern society are thrown into chaos when a friend decides to turn a 20-year-old guy into a creature of the night.
SPACE Gallery | (www.space538.org)
Sunday: “Girlhood.” In this acclaimed, award-winning French drama, a teen girl flees her oppressive home life and joins a gang with three similarly disaffected young women. Screened in celebration of International Women’s Day by SPACE, USM’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Bowdoin College’s Department of Women and Gender Studies.