A tale of two ski resorts: Spruce Mountain film wows audience

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Rick Groleau, second from left, asks Spruce Mountain Operations Manager Max Couture a question after Friday’s screening of Groleau’s movie, “The Town that Moved a Mountain” at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston during the Emerge Film Festival.

Rick Groleau talks about the making of his movie, “The Town that Moved a Mountain” after Friday’s screening at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston during the Emerge Film Festival.

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LEWISTON — On the sunniest, warmest day in weeks, roughly 100 people sat in the dark Friday afternoon watching a film that was 90 percent snow.

A weak film might have lost them. “The Town that Moved a Mountain” did not. For nearly an hour at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center, those 100 people sat enthralled.

“It was just beautiful,” Roxanna Brophy said when the film was over. “I didn’t stop smiling through the whole thing.”

The film is Rick Groleau’s tale of two mountains: a funny and often moving story about how a group of ski enthusiasts managed to relocate their favorite ski spot from a mountain on the outskirts of Jay to a mere hill farther south.

The film opens with interviews of people who live and work in the towns of Jay and Livermore Falls. Sure, they know Spruce Mountain, they say in the film. They love it there.

As it turns out, most of those people had no idea that the Spruce Mountain they know and love was not an original. The lesser-known Spruce Mountain in the northern part of Jay was where it all began.

“It’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time,” said Groleau, who grew up in the area.

And tell it he does. The energetic film features stunning imagery of both the original Spruce Mountain and its more commonly known twin to the south. There is plenty of ski footage, old and new, and there are still photographs from the ’50s and ’60s of snow machinery, snow-covered trails and pink-faced youngsters riding the slopes of Spruce Mountain — both old and new.

But the strength of the film comes through the dozen or so people whose interviews dominate the narrative. These are people with memories stretching back to the post-World War II years. The original Spruce Mountain ski resort was created in 1958 only to be abandoned a few years later for a hilly pasture that was much easier to access.

The memories shared by those who grew up on and around Spruce Mountain are at times poignant and at times hilarious. They describe an extremely tight-knit Spruce Mountain community where entire families would come together on the slopes.

Several of those featured in the film were at the film’s premiere on Friday, day two of this year’s Emerge Film Festival.

“I look out across this room and I see a bunch of Spruce Mountain kids,” said Jeff Meserve, featured prominently in the film. “That’s what we were and it was awesome.”

Mitchell Clyde Thomas, executive director of the Franco Center, grew up in the shadow of the original Spruce Mountain. He knew the semi-secret history of Spruce Mountain even as many still living there do not. And Thomas understands why those featured in the film are so passionate about that hill across the Androscoggin River from the paper mill. It was a kind of neutral ground, he recalled, where young people put aside schoolyard rivalries.

“That hill was the place where kids came together and became friends,” Thomas said.

The Spruce Mountain Ski Slope is still in operation, managed by Max Couture, who is also featured in the film.

“As much as the times have changed,” said Barry Wight, who grew up in the area, “the mountain has pretty much stayed the same.”

Bill Mitchell, now in his 80s, was one of the founders of the Spruce Mountain ski resort. He remembers both versions very well, and shared his memories in both the film and at the Q&A session that followed its premiere.

Like the others, Mitchell describes the Spruce Mountain community as a vital part of his past, and one that shaped him into the person he was to become. It’s a special place, Mitchell said, and one that people who live nearby should not take for granted.

“We want people to like it,” Mitchell said, “as much as we did.”

Groleau said he spent two years conducting interviews for his film. He spent only a few hundred dollars making it. He had to pay for rights to the music he used (and it’s good music; jaunty and strangely fitting) and he went out and bought a drone, which provided the breathtaking aerial photography in the film.

Groleau’s main regret about “The Town that Moved a Mountain?” He kind of wishes he’d spent even more time talking to the old-timers about the old days.

“There are just so many stories that came off that mountain,” he said.

Find out more about  “The Town that Moved a Mountain”

Film trailer: vimeo.com/199744456

Offical website: pickedwiss.com/thetown

Emerge Film Festival: emergefilmfestival.org

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