Take a wild ride with Roland’s Wrecking Service in St. Johnsbury
Roland and Mary Duprey are just the people you want to see when you’re stuck on the roadside in a snowbank in the Northeast Kingdom.
They run Roland’s Wrecking Service in St. Johnsbury, which bills itself online as "fair, honest and relatively inexpensive.”
A documentary about the business, called Roland & Mary, A Winter of Towing in the Northeast Kingdom, is the first entry in the 8th year of Vermont Public’s local film series Made Here. In addition to being available online, it will air on Vermont Public’s main TV channel tonight at 8.
The documentary follows Roland and Mary as they navigate deep, heavy snow and impossibly-stuck trucks. But it also brings the viewer into their lives, showing how they care for each other while facing serious health conditions.
The man behind the documentary, Vermont filmmaker Dillon Tanner, spoke with Vermont Public's Mary Engisch about his film. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Mary Engisch: I, for one love a film that starts out when the protagonist just drops an F-bomb right away. But what I didn't expect to see was like, this really loving and caring relationship on screen between Roland and Mary. How did you meet, and what moved you to make a film about them?
Dillon Tanner: We met because they literally gave me a tow. This was a few years ago, and I was living in a giant step van at the time. And this thing was very prone to breaking down. And one of those times I was in St. Johnsbury, we called around looking for, you know, something. And one place quoted us maybe $300. And we were like, "Geez!" And called another place, and they answered the phone like this: "What do you want?" But it was only $180. And we went with them.
They rode up on the scene, and were just immediately interesting people. They were like throwing chains at each other, cursing each other out. But at the same time, throwing in some "I love yous." So I was captivated. They gave us a ride to the auto shop. And Roland, the owner of the business, was immediately just an open book and just started telling me stories about his truck running over him and catastrophes that he's been through in his work life. And yeah, they stuck in my head for a year. So a year later, I called him up and asked him if they would want to shoot a movie together.
Mary Engisch: Somebody actually just wrote in about the documentary — they know that it's going to be playing, right. And the listener comment says: "I can't wait to see my hero and oft-time rescuer Mary on TV." What do you think people in the Northeast Kingdom, why do you think they have like, such affection for Mary and Roland?
Dillon Tanner: The first thing is that they are far more affordable than all the other tow truck companies in the area. The other thing is that they've been doing it for 45-plus years. So they're absolutely staples in the area. And they're, I think, sort of known for legendary maneuvers. So Roland is known to you know, he'll haul a tiny house, or a bulldozer. They're known to be the people that will pull through for you.
Mary Engisch: This is your first documentary, right?
Dillon Tanner: Yep.
Mary Engisch: Well, how did you get into filmmaking to begin with?
Dillon Tanner: I guess I started in high school, 'cause we had like a, like a broadcast media program. And that was like my first foray into video. And found that I had a knack for it. And just kind of off and on kept up with it in college and throughout my 20s just making short films.
Mary Engisch: Well how did filming work for this particular film? Like, in order to get the shots that you wanted? And how did the subject matter here, like the wrecker service navigating all this snow, impact how you shot the movie?
Dillon Tanner: I guess I made some careful selections about my gear. Like I tried to get a certain kind of gloves — like lobster claw gloves — so I could still like, hold a camera. And like, press the record button. I got a camera that was like, weatherproof. Yeah, just spent some time picking out like, clothes and gear and stuff, which Roland neverendingly made fun of me for. So I was constantly wrapped up in an insulated dickie suit while he's just going out in like a loose jacket and thin pants every day.
Mary Engisch: Any, like, tone or feel in mind before you started filming? Or did you just like, go headlong into it.
Dillon Tanner: You know, I kind of thought the film would be more about the adventures that we would get into on the road, and like the people we would meet, and you know, the world of the Northeast Kingdom. And while it is like, that is the setting and the container — when I tried to edit the footage that way, it just didn't coalesce into anything, and didn't really turn into a story, or something watchable at all. Until I made it about their relationship.
Mary Engisch: How cool. You were in the vehicles with Roland and sometimes with Mary on a number of these trips that — some of them looked pretty intense, right? They have to report to go rescue somebody out of a jam. Did you ever hop out and grab a shovel to dig somebody out of a snowbank when they got stuck? Or were you just filming that whole time?
Dillon Tanner: There was a few moments where I was forced to put the camera down. There's one scene where it's at night. And there's like a kid that lives off-grid at the top of this goat path. And we got stuck so many times. And we were there for maybe 12 hours or something. And my camera batteries just ended up dying eventually. And what's in the movie is about like 1% of the adventure.
Mary Engisch: OK, I have to say as a viewer watching that particular portion of the documentary, well, I know my blood pressure went up just watching that, because it was so intense.
Dillon Tanner: I'm thankful that it still comes across because I was paranoid after shooting it that I hadn't, you know — I only captured maybe 2% of it.
Mary Engisch: Yeah, it made the viewer feel just how intense some of these calls are for Roland and Mary to go at whatever time of day or night and you know, help somebody out of a jam or a snowbank or whatever it is. Yeah. Well, what's next for you other other films that are in the works?
Dillon Tanner: My biggest project right now is running monthly film festival in Burlington called Mothership Monthly Film Fest. I try to make something for that every month, whether that's a documentary, or short film. Yeah. Next one is this Saturday.
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