Following a nine-year hiatus, a Freeport filmmaker is concluding his work on a documentary on the carriage roads at Acadia National Park, to coincide with the park’s 100th anniversary.

Ronald Gillis is raising money through the online site Kickstarter to wrap up “Rockefeller’s Teeth: John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his Carriage Roads to Paradise.” Gillis is editing the film, and hopes to have his longstanding project completed in the spring.

“From there I will enter it into a couple of film festivals,” said Gillis, who has lived in Freeport since 1989.

Gillis interviewed John D. Rockefeller’s son, David, at the latter’s Seal Harbor home for the background material he needed to make the documentary.

“Rockefeller’s Teeth” will tell the story of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller’s monumental expansion of 57 miles of Acadia’s carriage roads, which have 17 granite bridges and two gate lodges still in use. According to a press release on the film, Gillis used never-before-seen archival photographs, contemporary footage and photography to film the beauty and history that encompasses one of the nation’s oldest national parks.

In addition to David Rockefeller, author-historian Ron Chernow and historians Will Reily and Roxanne Brouse provided material.

Gillis said he began filming in Acadia in 2003, but stopped two years later when grant funding dried up. He was spurred to return to the project two years ago, when David Rockefeller’s son, Richard, a Portland doctor Gillis knew, died in an airplane crash.

“That sort of woke me up,” Gillis said. “It was sort of an eerie thing. He had gotten me in touch with his father to do an interview on the carriage roads. It if weren’t for the son, I never would have gotten that interview. It sort of woke me up that life is short, and that there are a lot of good things in that documentary I had started. I thought it would be an interesting tie-in to start the film with Acadia’s 100th anniversary.”

July 8, 2016, will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of Acadia National Park.

“Rockefeller’s Teeth” explores the development of the landmark carriage roads, and the man who designed, built and paid for them. The name, “Rockefeller’s Teeth: John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his Carriage Roads to Paradise,” is derived from the construction workers’ affectionate nickname for the cut granite stones placed along the edges of the carriage roads as guard rails. Known as “copingstones,” they resemble molars.

The National Park Service at Acadia selected Gillis as its first filmmaker artist-in-residence when he began work on the documentary. Maine PBS had broadcast Gillis’ documentary on the history of the Pettingill Farm family, which lived at the historic saltbox saltwater farm, now owned by the Freeport Historical Society. “Words from Millie’s Garden” told the story of the farm’s history, and of Mildred Pettengill, the last person to live there in 1970.

Gillis said that he and his wife, Christine, who helped with the filming, thoroughly enjoyed their interviews with David Rockefeller.

“He was a really nice guy,” Gillis said. “He gave us all the time we needed, and welcomed us into his home.”

Joseph Conforti, professor of American and New England Studies at the University of Southern Maine, commented on the Gillis documentary.

“I do a lot of project and proposal evaluation, particularly for the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Conforti said in the press release. “I believe I know a quality humanist and skilled artist when I meet one. Ron Gillis fits the bill. I can simply assure you that he has the skill, knowledge, and commitment to perform excellent work.”

Gillis said he hopes to raise approximately $25,000 through the Kickstarter campaign, an amount that will not cover the time he spent on the film.

He grew up in Boston, and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Boston in 1983. Gillis pursued a career in photography as a freelance photojournalist before settling in as a staff photographer at Maine Medical Center in 1986, and worked there for 15 years. He became an independent photographer and filmmaker in 2001.

Ronald and Christine Gillis are the parents of a daughter, Kayla, who is in graduate school and a son, Ronald, who attends the University of Maine.

Ronald Gillis looks into his camera as he begins filming a documentary on Acadia National Park’s famed Carriage Roads in 2003.


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