Indie film: The early days of the pandemic become a plot for the Portland filmmaker


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

As the pandemic years roll on, it’s been interesting to see how our reality has seeped into our entertainment. While stories about the pandemic itself aren’t exactly what getaway-minded viewers flock to (sorry, Judd Apatow’s “The Bubble”), the impact of a global medical emergency, with all the fear, and the isolation that comes with it, inevitably becomes just another fact of life on the big screen. In fact, this nightmare has been going on for so long now that Portland filmmaker Dan Chaimowitz is counting on viewers of his latest film, “Dole Mates,” to get 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 going unemployed. “It was always kind of a story about unemployed people having to live together, but it never really went down well.” That is, until COVID appears.

“Dole Mates” tells the story of a young couple (Mariah Larocque and Blake Wright) who, after meeting on a Saturday night at the very start of the pandemic, are forced to quarantine together for 28 days in the Wright’s apartment. Losing their jobs due to enforced isolation is just the beginning of their tribulations in this strange new world, with the couple having to learn to live alongside someone they’ve just met.

For Chaimowitz, a veteran screenwriting instructor at the University of Southern Maine, those disorienting early days of lockdown at least provided him with the hook his long story was simmering with.

“Everyone at USM was sent home,” Chaimowitz recalls, “and the two protagonists of the film (who are also an actual couple) were living together in Bangor at the time. Initially, we started with make it a webseries, doing everything remotely, without a crew. But, after filming a few episodes, we liked what we were getting, but we decided we needed a bigger reach, so I got some made a feature film.

Chaimowitz, whose first film, the Portland-shot love story “The Opposite of Cleveland” premiered on Amazon last year (“I made about five bucks,” he jokes), s is inspired by his successful association with his USM students to make “Dole Mates.” Along with Larocque (USM Class of 2021) and Wright (Class of 2020), the film’s cinematographer is fellow 2020 graduate Angie Dubois Chaimowitz also cites support from Maine crew members Garrick Hoffman, Zach Wheaton and the Wright’s film partner, Henry Riley, to bring the claustrophobic story of “Dole Mates” to life on film.He’s also enthusiastic about the production skills of his wife, Brenda, who forms the other half of their DBC. Productions, LLC. Especially since, like “The Opposite of Cleveland,” “Dole Mates” was funded entirely by early withdrawals from their shared retirement account. “I promised never to do that again,” a Chaimowitz said.

In addition to these Maine talents, the filmmaker is also proud to have assembled a soundtrack made up of artists entirely from Maine, with “Dole Mates” featuring songs from local music scene regulars 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 talented Larocque just completed a year of representing Maine in the Miss America Pageant. She was Miss Congeniality.)

Still, the film’s structure and Chaimowitz’s ties to so many young and talented Maine actors, musicians and filmmakers allowed the director to achieve great production value in his “no-budget” film. (“Dole Mates” cost less than $25,000 in total.)

“In a way, making the movie in such a confined space was easier,” Chaimowitz said. “It was designed that way, and we filmed for 10 days last August at our house.”

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

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’s almost nostalgic – these two people meet on Saturday from the first weekend before it all shut down, and then they’re stuck together for 28 days.

It’s an evocative number, as Chaimowitz notes, both for a romantic comedy (think Sandra Bullock) and for a story set at the start of a viral outbreak. (Think “28 days later,” but without the enraged zombies.)

With “Dole Mates” already accepted into the New York International Film Festival, Chaimowtz has high hopes for his second directorial effort. “We finished about a month ago and decided to focus on film festivals that have categories for ‘no budget’ films, thinking they may include some production values. That said, ‘Dole Mates’ looks great, thanks to Angie, who is just terrific (director of photography). We thought about how to make it all look cinematic, changing the look of the room and the actors. (Mariah did her hair and makeup herself). So even though they spend their time in this one room, it sure looks awesome.

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

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