2017-06-08 / Front Page

Filmmaker brings ‘Home’ to Biddeford

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

Ray Shevenell on day one of his walk to Biddeford, standing outside Compton, Quebec. Shevenell recently started running again non competetively with doctor’s approval. His fastest half mile time in high school was one minute and 59 seconds. (Tonya Shevenell courtesy photo) Ray Shevenell on day one of his walk to Biddeford, standing outside Compton, Quebec. Shevenell recently started running again non competetively with doctor’s approval. His fastest half mile time in high school was one minute and 59 seconds. (Tonya Shevenell courtesy photo) BIDDEFORD – Cape Elizabeth resident, longtime musician and owner of independent arts production and marketing company Home Ice Productions, Tonya Shevenell, has completed her first documentary film “The Home Road.” The film follows her father Ray Shevenell’s journey retracing the footsteps of his greatgreat grandfather Israel Shevenell’s nearly 200- mile walk from Compton, Quebec to Biddeford in April 1845.

Tonya and Ray will both attend the screening of the new film at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 8 at McArthur Library in Biddeford.

Tonya said that as a young child her father remembered hearing stories of Israel, whom Shevenell Park in Biddeford was named after. He arrived in Maine almost two hundred years ago after two weeks where he worked making bricks for 20 years before he went into business for himself managing a gravel pit and building homes. Israel died at the age of 86.

In 1972 Michael Guignard wrote an article for the Biddeford-Saco Journal about Israel’s journey. Ray read the article and kept it in the top shelf of his bureau for Tonya’s entire life, next to his collection of foreign money, deck of cards and fancy pens. In 2013, Ray finally decided to make the same trek Israel had, and Tonya, having considered making a documentary film already, decided to film her father’s journey with no prior experience, equipment or funding.

“When I thought of the courage it would take for anyone to uproot themselves from their country to walk into the unknown,” Tonya said, “I looked at what all the people who had come before us have done and decided I could figure this out.”

Tonya said her father had been a lifelong athlete. He attended Georgetown University on a four-year track scholarship and continued to run into his 60s for the Unum track team where he worked. In 2007, at the age of 66, Ray’s aorta almost ruptured due to a previously undiagnosed genetic condition. After back-to-back open heart surgeries at Maine Medical Center, and a third surgery in Boston, doctors told him he could no longer run.

“One of the lessons from my father I can point to is his unbelievable resilience through a period of redefining, letting go of who he was and turning into a walker,” Tonya said.

Ray was not retired when he decided to undertake the journey and had to request two weeks off from work to complete the walk. Tonya said she had difficulty at times getting her father to slowdown enough to film him. She said she struggled to remove herself from subject when challenges arose along the way.

“I’m reacting first as a daughter, a concerned party, then I would think, ‘Oh yeah my camera. That’s what we’re doing out here,’” Tonya said.

The process of filming was further hampered by Tonya’s mother’s health troubles. Tonya’s mother fell ill around the time filming began, and she died in May 2016. Tonya said she and her father were a team through the process of filming and times of caregiving.

“We’re both stronger versions of ourselves as a result,” Tonya said. “We both started getting used to a new definition of home. It changed while we were working on a movie called the ‘Home Road.’”

Ray said he was amazed by his daughter’s willingness to learn filmmaking. He said while he didn’t pick up the same skills, he loved sharing in the experience.

“Her enthusiasm and zest for life started to accelerate,” Ray said. “It was fun to watch her and see her grow.”

Ray said the weather during the walk was beautiful, but the first five days were full of rain and temperatures never climbed above 50 degrees. He said because of heavy rainfall many streams formed in the surrounding fields and created momentary waterfalls. Ray said everything was green and the sound of the running water was soothing.

“If it had been sunny the whole time I would have never had that experience,” Ray said.

Ray said the walk brought him closer to Israel as he learned how hard it would have been for the 19-year-old to make the journey alone. He said he gained respect not only for Israel’s physical ability but his ability to follow the rivers through New Hampshire and Maine.

“I was glad I could honor that memory and feel some of the courageous experience that he had,” Ray said.

Tonya said the story of “The Home Road” is a linear arc, weaving back and forth between past and present. Tonya kept detailed notes of daily events, which she sent to a friend so he could compose music for the film. While the soundtrack that was completed wasn’t used on the final cut of the film, it was Tonya’s notes that allowed her to finish the film after taking time off to care for her mother.

“I can remember each day even though it’s been two years now, from writing stuff down and having cameras going,” Tonya said. “Having to report back on what each day was about was a really good exercise.”

From her previous work Tonya has established relationships with theaters and venues throughout northern New England and has nine screening events scheduled with her father so far. She hopes to return to Biddeford sometime at the end of the summer or beginning of fall.

Tonya’s first documentary film is the beginning of a new filmmaking career. She has two short films in mind, both revolving around the three and a half year period of making her first full-length film. Tonya said the first short will explore the pain and loss of her mother and the second will be a more light-hearted take on the foibles of being a first time filmmaker. She also hopes to have a book out by the end of the year, reflecting on the spirit of being a beginner.

Tonya still has a lot of questions about Israel, even at the end of film production. She has no knowledge of any photos of him or if he kept a diary. She said she’s still not sure how he learned about Biddeford and said he may have been recruited or may have learned about it from travelers passing through Quebec. For Tonya, the past is up for interpretation.

“All in all I like the past because you can count on it, lean on it,” Tonya said. “There are all kinds of lessons back there that we all have to think about.”


“Home Road,” the story of Ray Shevenell’s journey to follow the footsteps of ancestor Israel Shevenell to Biddeford from Canada, will be screened at 6 p.m., Thursday, June 8 at McArthur Library on Main Street in Biddeford. Ray and his daughter, Tonya Shevenell, who created the documentary, will be present at the even.

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