SOLON — Veteran Maine filmmaker Richard Searls lost a lifetime of master film reels and original videotape Saturday in a fire that tore through his former home and storage barn.
Searls, 69, and his wife Julie, who live nearby in a newer house, were not injured.
“I lost all my films from 1970 to 1990, and more — everything,” he said from his yard Tuesday. “That’s a big loss.”
Searls’ films including modern dancer Twyla Tharp and jazz great Miles Davis also were lost in the fire Saturday.
He is known in Maine for his collaboration with Stu Silverstein, co-founder of Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, on the film “Dead River Rough Cut,” a 1976 film about two trappers and their solitary life in the Maine wilderness.
Searls also made “Cut and Run,” a film about the perils of logging in central Maine.
He made short films for Nova, National Geographic, and Children’s Television Workshop, which produces “Sesame Street.” His work in Maine includes films for the state Department of Agriculture.
“I used that house for my film work,” he said Tuesday. “I do most of my work in Portland now because I couldn’t find enough work here, but there are no backup copies on the ones in the house — these were all the masters — both film and videotape. It’s gone.”
Searls said he has copies of some of his work, but original reels of as many as a dozen other films were lost, including “The Free Life,” a documentary about a transatlantic balloon adventure.
“I’m going to search around and find out who might have any duplicates,” he said.
Searls said he also lost two motorcycles that were stored for friends, two working tractors and a variety of old film editing equipment. He said the heat from the fire was so intense it peeled the paint off a pickup truck he had parked nearby. It also set trees across the road on fire.
Searls said he and his wife moved into the house on River Road in 1971 after a fire at their previous home in Athens. He said fire also struck the house that burned Saturday on a previous occasion, in 1980, before he, his wife and children Seth and Sarah built their current home in 1981.
Searls said his insurance company will notify him this week about whether the contents of their former house and barn are covered.
Solon Fire Chief Ronald Brown said the fire apeared to have started in the barn, but after so much damage, there is no way to be sure. He said firefighters from several towns battled the fire from about 3:30 p.m. Saturday when it was reported, until close to midnight.
“We had the fire marshal check it out, but we couldn’t determine where it started,” Brown said Tuesday. “It burned so much we couldn’t tell what started it. It’s totally gone.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367