Lovett Dow steadies herself on the upper deck of the Captain Neil Burgess as it lurches and lumbers away from the mainland, past Strout Cannery and the Breakwater lighthouse, out of Rockland Harbor and into the mouth of Penobscot Bay. Her estranged, acerbic, larger-than-life mother Catherine has just been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer for a third time, but has refused treatment. Catherine’s only request: To spend a final summer with her daughter at the family’s vacation home on North Haven, a blue-collar island community located thirteen miles off the coast of central Maine.
Lovett is not looking forward to the reunion. She hasn’t set foot on-island in ten years, not since walking out on her fiancé, her community, and a place she had cherished since birth. Now, teetering on the brink of a second failed engagement, toiling away at a lackluster career in New York, she is utterly unprepared to confront her past and dreading a run-in with her former lover, a prospect she knows—on a remote island, population 405—is inevitable.
Passions reignite when the two finally meet, despite the fact that Asa is now a married father to a three-year-old son. Catherine wastes no time giving her daughter an abundance of unsolicited relationship advice, input Lovett finds not only intrusive, but ironic—Catherine is a three-time divorcée. As tensions rise, mother and daughter spiral further into old patterns, eventually unearthing the true origin of their deep-seated resentment and rage.
When Catherine’s health takes a final turn, Lovett is forced to make a choice: Let go and forgive her mother—and by extension, herself—or continue allowing anger to define her.
Though her family has owned property on North Haven for a half-century, Lovett Dow (36) is still a “summer person”—one of thousands who flood the picture-perfect coastal towns of New England each June and retreat back south at the first signs of autumn. As such, she straddles two worlds: She is accepted by the island community, but is not a true islander; she is outwardly successful in New York—she lives with her fiancé in a newly renovated brownstone—but is not entirely at home there either. Stubborn, reactionary, fiercely independent, and deeply loyal, she is far more like her mother than she would care to admit. She is also plagued by self-doubt, less sure than ever that the path she has chosen is the right one.
Bawdy, charismatic, and full of life—selfish, petty, deeply insecure, and codependent—Catherine (early 60s), is a mass of contradictions; she is also acutely aware that time is running out. With two, perhaps three months to repair a troubled relationship with her only child, she flits between two extremes: Desperately seeking validation from Lovett on the one hand, a need to impart some final, lasting wisdom on the other. More than anything, she wants Lovett to have what she has never been able to provide: peace.
It’s more than a cutesy motto. Mainers feel a deep pride, even a romanticism, about their heritage. Traveling through the Down East and Acadia region, known for its rocky shoreline and shingle-style cottages, and mingling with its people—lobsterman and loggers, sap harvesters and boat builders—feels a bit like traveling back in time; this untamed, untouched landscape is often described by outsiders as being a bit like a foreign country. Take an hour-long ferry ride to one of its islands—North Haven is one of fourteen unbridged island communities dotting Penobscot Bay—and the distinctions become even more pronounced. Maine has a unique culture and customs, even a vernacular all its own.
To Lovett, North Haven represents the path she didn’t choose: living back-to-the-land style as a fisherman’s wife. Ten years after walking out on her fiancé, she’s discovered that life in New York feels just as isolated.
Visually, JUNE JULY AUGUST gives a cursory nod to mid-century Maine-based regionalists Homer, Hopper, and Wyeth, all of whom blended aspects of the romantic and realist movements while emphasizing specificity of place and “local color.” Shooting on the Arri Alexa (primarily for its likeness to 35mm film) with a series of Ziess Compact Prime CP.2 lenses, the New York sequence will appear hyper-real, in fact: A cooler color, high contrast, and intense foreground texture, employing shadows to medium depth-of-field. North Haven, by comparison, will be more aggressively romanticized, as it is by our characters (and its real life inhabitants). I’ll switch to Ziess Mark II High Speed Primes there, providing for more color latitude, a warmer picture, de-saturated color, and the occasional lens flare.
As it relates to composition, the New York sequence will feature a series of single-shot, static images: the half-eaten breakfast lingering on a kitchen table, nautical items (mason jars filled with blue-green sea glass, a wooden sailboat resting on a windowsill) scattered about like talismans, a lonely suitcase standing at the ready in the hall—picture after picture of Lovett’s physical and emotional baggage. Upon arrival in Maine, however, we zoom out for the first time to honor the beauty of the natural landscape, resulting in a less hemmed-in, claustrophobic feel. I’ll rely heavily on a Dolly and Slider combo throughout, particularly as our characters move from room to room in North Haven, rediscovering a home rich with history and brimming with nostalgia. Later scenes with Lovett and Asa will feel a bit like vignettes, lyrical interludes laced with extreme close-ups—close enough to feel their breath on the lens.
Patient camera work and deliberate pacing—long, unbroken takes, off-center composition, and less obvious, more thoughtful coverage—are among my top priorities as a filmmaker.
Traveling to North Haven is a sensory experience. Visually, coastal Maine is a stunning palette of blues, grays, and muted greens, punctuated by purple lupine and, of course, bright red lobster. The air is heavier, thick with fog and smelling of salt. The sounds are distinctive, too: the lapping of the tide against the rocks, wind whispering through the cattails, the chirp and croon of the seagulls, the haunting blast of a foghorn echoing across the waves. Much of the sound in JUNE JULY AUGUST will be diegetic, originating from within the world of the story itself. The film’s minimal score—drawing primarily on piano and strings—should complement the sonic experience of being on-island, rather than drive the story.