Indie Film: Early Pandemic Days Become Plot Device for Portland Filmmaker

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

As the pandemic years have progressed, it has been interesting to see how our reality has seeped into our entertainment. While stories about the pandemic itself aren’t exactly where escapist viewers are drawn to (sorry, Judd Apatow’s “The Bubble”), the impact of a global medical emergency, with all the associated fear and isolation, inevitably becomes just another fact of life. on the big screen. In fact, this nightmare lasts so long 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,” Chaimowitz said, helpfully explaining that the title’s “dole” refers to the British term for becoming unemployed. “It was always kind of a story about the unemployed having to move in 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 meeting on a Saturday night at the start of the pandemic, are forced to quarantine together at Wright’s apartment for 28 days. Losing their jobs to forced isolation is just the beginning of their trials and tribulations in this strange new world, where the couple must learn to live with someone they’ve just met.

For Chaimowitz, an accomplished screenwriting instructor at the University of Southern Maine, those early, disorienting days of lockdown at least gave him the hook his long-simmering story needed.

“Everyone at USM was sent home,” recalls Chaimowitz, “and the two main characters of the film (who are also a real couple) were living together in Bangor at the time. Initially, we started making it a web series, where we “We did everything remotely, with no crew. But after we filmed a few episodes, we liked what we got, but we decided we needed a longer range, so I made it into a feature film.”

Chaimowitz, whose first film, the Portland-shot love story “The Opposite of Cleveland,” was streamed on Amazon last year (“I made about five dollars,” he jokes), drew on his fruitful association with his USM students at the making “Dole Mates.” Aside from Larocque (USM class of 2021) and Wright (class of 2020), the film’s camera director is fellow 2020 student Angie Dubois. Chaimowitz also cites the support of Maine-based crew members Garrick Hoffman, Zach Wheaton, and Wright’s film partner, Henry Riley, to bring the claustrophobic story of Dole Mates into cinematic life, is also effusive about the production skills of his wife, Brenda, who makes up the other half of their DBC Productions, LLC. “The Opposite of Cleveland,” “Dole Mates” was funded entirely from early withdrawals from their shared retirement account. “I promised I’ll never do that again,” Chaimowitz said.

In addition to these Maine talents, the filmmaker is also proud to have curated a soundtrack made up of all-Maine artists, with “Dole Mates” featuring songs from regulars from the local music scene such 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 was just coming out of a year representing Maine in the Miss America Pageant. She was Miss Congeniality.)

But the structure of the film and Chaimowitz’s ties to so many young and talented Maine actors, musicians, and filmmakers allowed the director to get a lot of production value in his “off-budget” film. (“Dole Mates” came in under $25,000 in total.)

“In some ways it was easier to shoot the film in such a limited space,” Chaimowitz said. “It was designed that way and we filmed for 10 days at our home last August.”

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

Chaimowitz also cites the story’s timeline 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 comes to a halt, and then they are stuck together for 28 days.”

That’s a suggestive number, as Chaimowitz points out, both for a rom-com (think Sandra Bullock) and a story set at the start of a viral outbreak. (Think of “28 days later,” but without the rage zombies.)

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

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

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