A husband and wife from California purchase a tiny island off the coast of Maine, build a cabin without running water or electricity and a gazebo to watch the Atlantic, and live together in virtual isolation for 36 years. It’s no wonder the story of Nan and Art Kellam has fascinated authors, journalists and, now, filmmakers. It’s a love story, something of a mystery story and a uniquely Maine story. But don’t call the Kellams’ story a fairytale.
“Whenever we tell someone the premise of the movie – this couple moving to an island off of Maine, creating this kingdom for themselves – they think it’s one sort of story. But, in diving into the journals Art and Nan kept about how they came to the conclusion to do what they did and about the challenges they faced on a daily basis, it’s clear that those themes are most intriguing. Reading entries from decades into their time on the island about Nan worrying, ‘How can I make Art happy?,’ it’s fascinating how deeply committed they were to this life. It wasn’t just this fairytale romance.”
That’s Maine filmmaker Peter Logue, who’s directing the upcoming short feature film “We Were an Island,” about the inseparably dedicated lives of the Kellams, who, in the days after World War II, made the choice to withdraw from the world to the evocatively named Placentia Island, an uninhabited, 500-acre islet near – but not that near – Bass Harbor. Logue, having teamed with screenwriter, composer and playwright Jahn Sood, is preparing to film Nan and Art Kellam’s singular story, based on Peter Blanchard III’s 2010 book “We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam,” which will dramatize the couple’s solitary (but for each other) decades on Placentia.
Logue (director of last year’s “Fire of ’47,” about the massive wildfires that swept the same area in the years before the Kellams’ arrival), met Sood through Bass Harbor’s acclaimed Barn Arts Collective theater and learned that, even in the wider world outside Placentia Island, connections are strange and fortuitous things. “I loved a musical Jahn wrote called ‘In a Sea of Faces,’ and floated the idea of working together, ” said Logue, “At the mention of Art and Nan, his eyes lit up.” Explained Sood, “As a kid sometime in the ’90s, I was on a sailboat owned by somebody who had the keys to their house who, as it turned out, was the executor of their estate. I went into their house and everything was set up as if they had just been there, even though they hadn’t lived there in a decade. Art’s glasses on a table, clothes on hooks, half-written letters – it ignited my imagination.”
The pair, in planning to tell the Kellams’ story, have spoken to many of the Mainers who, over the years, came to know, and eventually respect, the couple. Even though their past was, at first, a matter of great local gossip. “There were rumors about just who these new people were who have moved out to their own tiny island,” said Logue. “There were rumors that Art had worked on the Manhattan Project, or that he was a disgraced Nazi spy. But, as the years went on, people responded to their independence and their commitment to this vision.” Added Sood, “Their story is romantic, but, in a way, it’s not just romantic. Even though the Manhattan aspect turns out to have just been a rumor, their decision was connected to a sense of the world changing. They’d just lived through WWII, and their journals indicate a choice to live differently from the way the world was changing, to participate in the world differently. And in a way, they succeeded.”
“We Were an Island,” which Logue and Sood are planning to film in June this year on both Placentia and Mount Desert Island, has already attracted substantial interest outside of Maine – including in some potential stars the pair can’t reveal at this point in the process. “We’re casting two separate couples who’ll portray Art and Nan from 1949 when they arrived to Art’s death in 1985,” Sood explained of the film’s decades-spanning structure. Logue said, cagily, “Over the past few months, we’ve been meeting with a number of very successful and well-known actors, so we’re very excited.” They also revealed that, for many of the smaller parts, the film is casting locally, with Sood explaining that, for the fishermen who came to befriend the couple, the film needed people who would actually have to drive the fishing boats and haul traps. “Plus, Peter just wouldn’t accept any bad Maine accents,” said Sood, a New Yorker, laughing.
In preparing their film, the pair have already raised some $45,000 through, as Logue explained, “private donations from people who care about the Kellams” and who support Logue and Sood’s previous work. In order to raise the additional $25,000 necessary to realize their cinematic vision, the filmmakers have set up a crowdsourcing campaign (at fundraising.fracturedatlas.org), which has raised more than $3,000 with about three weeks left in the fundraising period. Apart from the budget needed to recreate the Kellams’ long-gone home (razed by The Nature Conservancy, to whom Nan willed the island, to deter trespassers), the budget will be used to hire a professional crew (including Portland cinematographer Dean Merrill), a new world of filmmaking for documentarian Logue. “I usually work by myself, in a sort of portrait style,” he explained. “But I’ve learned a lot about how many people it takes to make a narrative film of quality with no compromises. ‘We Were an Island’ is going to be beautiful and cinematic, and be really true to the spirit of this place they called Homewood.”
To join in those contributing to the telling of Art and Nan Kellam’s story, check out the “We Were an Island” fundraising page at fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/folk-on-productions/campaigns/672. And to keep tabs on the film’s progress, click on the Facebook page.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starting Friday: “Leaning into the Wind.” Sixteen years after his first film about the singular landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy, “River and Tides,” director Thomas Riedelsheimer returns to document Goldsworthy’s newest, even more elaborate, fragile and personal art.
Starting Friday: “A Fantastic Woman.” Part of Frontier’s Independent Film Series and winner of this year’s best foreign language film Oscar, this Chilean movie is a visually stunning, emotionally rich tale of a trans woman coping with her older lover’s death, along with the prejudices of the lover’s family.