LEWISTON — It began as a simple story idea about a beloved coach and his soccer team.

It didn’t take long for Ian Clough to realize that telling the tale of Lewiston’s Mike McGraw and his Blue Devils team went far beyond the sidelines of the soccer field.

Clough’s idea for a small, simple film became something more significant and is among the highlights of this weekend’s Emerge Film Festival. “One Team: The Story of the Lewiston High School Blue Devils” had its first public showing Friday night at The Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center. 

“My initial story was to do a short, tiny, little low-budget film about Mike McGraw and this team,” Clough said. “After we started filming, I quickly realized that Mike’s story and the current team’s story is great, but there were other issues that needed to be talked about as well.

“We talk a little bit about the history of Lewiston and the Franco-American immigrants in the early 20th century. We delve into the history of the immigrant population in the early 2000s. But the most important part of the story is the team this year and how good they were and how soccer transcends so many things. First and foremost, it’s a feel-good sports documentary.”

A sold-out crowd got its first look at the film, much of which was shot during the Blue Devils’ run toward the Class A state championship last fall. A second showing is scheduled for Sunday at 10 a.m. at Community Little Theatre in Auburn.

“I’m blown away and I haven’t said that since 1983,” McGraw said after the Friday night screening. “I think Ian and his staff did an incredible job. He put together such a great scope and sequence of the whole season. One of the things a filmmaker tries to do is get an emotional response. I was more nervous watching us finish the state championship game than I was when I was there.”

The film is labeled a “director’s cut” because it is an early version. Clough said he will continue to work on it before sending it out to various film festivals later in the year. 

Players arrived in limousines and received first-class treatment, even receiving soccer balls with the film logo on it as well as posters and T-shirts.

“It was a really special night,” said player Maulid Abdow. “The film I thought was loved by everybody. I  thought it was great. Ian worked really hard on it. It came out good.”

The film shows the Blue Devils, coming off a loss in the state championship the year before, win the championship before the largest crowd to view a soccer game in Maine.

“It was funny at times and at the same time it was moving,” said player Mo Khalid. “It really captured the story of the town and of the refugees. He still was able to stick to the soccer and Coach McGraw. He did a great job.”

The story focuses on the four games of the soccer season, three regional tourney games and the state championship. It also tells the story of Lewiston’s past and present immigrant history and focuses on the career of McGraw, considered by most of the team to be a father figure.

The film was full of soccer action and McGraw coaching up his team. The players enjoyed watching themselves and laughed at humorous moments, such as when Abdow noticed McGraw’s shirt was on backwards at practice.

“The whole thing was the right place at the right time,” McGraw said of watching the film capture such a wonderful season and group of players. “It’s all compacted into one short period of time. At some point it will all go away. It’s a tremendous moment to have lived.”

Abdow got to relive his flip throw that led to the state championship-winning goal. The crowd applauded excitedly when the game concluded in the film.

“It was very special to see myself do that,” Abdow said. “It was great. Everybody loved it.”

McGraw, only the second soccer coach in the program’s history, has been with the team for over three decades. He has  overseen a soccer evolution at Lewiston. The 2016 team featured players who are former refugees from six countries. Most settled in Lewiston as children and have grown up together. They proved to be a powerhouse, scoring 114 goals and earning national ranking.

“If you’re a fan of soccer, you’ll appreciate the soccer aspect of it,” Clough said. “But even if you’re not a fan of soccer, or maybe even not a fan of organized sports, you’ll still appreciate the story being told.”

Clough said he wanted to depict the impact the soccer team had off the field and to portray the tremendous team that was seen on the field. 

“If you’re not from Lewiston, you might have some misconceptions about the city and about the immigrant population,” Clough said. “I hope this paints Lewiston in a positive light.”

Clough hadn’t planned to have the film ready for the Emerge festival, but he decided that all the stress and hard work of trying to meet an earlier deadline would be worth the effort. He was fine-tuning the film Thursday after adding voice-overs Wednesday with Lewiston native and New England Sports Network broadcaster Tom Caron.

“The only reason I wanted to do it at Emerge was for the players and Coach McGraw,” Clough said. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to be the talk of the town for the night. I’m more exited for the team than I am for myself and the film.”

It proved to be a memorable night for the players. Khalid, Abdi Shariff, Maslah Hassan, McGraw and Clough all answered questions following the showing.

“(Clough) made it happen for us,” Khalid said. “We had the limos and talked in front of all the people. All the tickets were sold out. It was a great feeling.”

Clough said he’s working on another showing in the near future. Talks have already begun about holding a free screening at Lewiston High School.

“That way the immigrant population can come see it and we’ll do it for the high school kids, too,” Clough said.

With more adjustments to the film forthcoming, Clough is glad to have the opportunity to get feedback from the public after these initial showings. He’s hoping to add a music soundtrack and to do some filming and follow-up interviews with players after graduation.

“Then we’ll start sending it out to festivals and our goal is to do a festival run of the fall 2016 to spring of 2017,” Clough said. “And we’re exploring other options. We’ll do a festival run and then see where our options are as far as distribution and possible TV and stuff like that.”

Being an alumni and former player for McGraw, Clough had followed the success of the current Blue Devils, but it wasn’t until he actually saw them play that he realized what this team possessed.

“I think the most surprising thing for me is how good they are,” Clough said. “Watching soccer like that in the state of Maine, it’s kind of crazy. You don’t expect that. You don’t expect that level of play in Maine.”

Another surprise that was evident in the film was the kind of impact McGraw has had and still has with his soccer program. One of the especially moving moments in the film features Abdulkarim Abdulle greeting McGraw in the middle of the field following the championship win over Scarborough. The senior hugs his coach while the rest of the team joins in the celebration.

“The love that these kids have for McGraw is unbelievable,” Clough said. “Everything they did this year was for him. You have players from the early ’80s to the ’90s that still love Coach McGraw and are interested in the story of this soccer team. You have this completely different-looking team in 2015, yet the feelings they have for Coach McGraw are the same feeling I had for McGraw or people way back when had for McGraw.”

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Emerge Film Festival

Saturday’s highlights

• Several features and short films will be shown from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four venues — Auburn: Community Little Theatre; Lewiston: Franco Center and Bates College at Schaeffer Theatre and Olin Arts Center. 

• Emerge Kids programming – the animated feature film “Snowtime!” plus three shorts will be shown at 10 a.m. at Community Little Theatre, Auburn.

• Emerge Spotlight Selection: “Baby, Baby, Baby.” Q&A with director Brian Klugman to follow. 7 p.m., Franco Center.

• EFFy Awards, Agora Grand Event Center (formerly St. Patrick’s Church), Lewiston. 9 p.m.

For more info and full schedule of films: emergefilmfestival.org

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