Art and Nan Kellam in their dory. Nancy Rigdon Photo

Filmmaker Peter Logue grew up on Mount Desert Island hearing the stories and myths passed down over the years about Art and Nan Kellam.

The Kellams left Los Angeles in 1949, where Art worked as an aircraft engineer, to live on Placentia Island, two miles off Mount Desert. With no transportation other than an oar-powered dory, no electricity and no telephone or two-way radio, they lived together and alone on the island for 36 years in a house they built themselves. Some locals speculated Art was a spy hiding out, or that he had helped build the atom bomb that was dropped on Japan in World War II and plunged into isolation because of guilt.

Whatever the reasons for their solitary life, the Kellams’ story struck Logue as fascinating fodder for a narrative film. He wanted to focus on the small moments between the Kellams, which on an island inhabited by only two people easily become big moments. He assembled a production team and made the film “We Were An Island.” The 23-minute film premieres Saturday at The 1932 Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor, then screens the next day at the Strand Theatre in Rockland, on June 16.

“I’ve always been drawn to this story, how they were able to stay out there for 36 years, how they made that commitment to each other,” said Logue, 27, who grew up in Southwest Harbor and now lives in Rockport. “Because of their isolation, the stakes of small interactions were large.”

The film stars some well-known actors, including Loudon Wainwright III and Becky Ann Baker as the older Kellams. Baker is best known as the mother in the critically acclaimed NBC series “Freaks and Geeks” and has also been in films, including “Men in Black” and “Spider-Man 3.”  Wainright first gained fame as a folk singer in the late 1960s and early 1970s and has acted in a range of films, including “Big Fish,” “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Also in the cast is Dylan Baker, known for the CBS drama “The Good Wife.” Logue is the director and producer.

The film was inspired by the 2010 book of the same name by Peter P. Blanchard III, a long-time Mount Desert summer resident who was friends with Nan Kellam and was given access to the Kellams’ journals and other writing. Blanchard met Nan Kellam in the late 1980s, shortly after Art’s death in 1985. She had donated the island, which the couple bought in 1949, to the Nature Conservancy, and Blanchard was working for the group as a volunteer island caretaker. Nan Kellam died in 2001.


In talking to Nan Kellam and reading the couple’s writing, Blanchard thinks they wanted the public to know what their life on the island was like, and what the ideas were behind their isolated life. Blanchard’s book did that, and the film will as well.

“Art had been writing a longer (journal) about their experiences, and they wanted to publish it someday as a book, but age and ill health prevented that,” said Blanchard, who lives in New York City when not in Maine. “They wanted to get their story told, to say that it could be done, that you could live a wonderful life alone with your partner or husband in a natural setting, even in this day and age.”

Chris Henry Coffey and Jennifer Mudge in a scene from “We Were An Island.” Photo courtesy of Folk On Productions

The film was written by Jahn Sood, a Brooklyn-based writer and composer who spent summers growing up on Mount Desert. Sood got to pore over the Kellams’ journals and writings, which are housed at the Southwest Harbor Public Library. He was able to see the details of their isolated life, including the fact that they had to row their dory two miles to Bass Harbor any time they needed groceries or something else.

Sometimes lobstermen brought mail or gave them rides, and they did have visitors to the island, though not often. They had no heat other than a stove and no electricity. A battery-powered radio allowed them to listen to the outside world but not to communicate with it.

The Kellams were both born in the Midwest and met in Wisconsin. They married in 1935. They were living in the Los Angeles area in the 1940s when they began to think about a simpler, more isolated life. From reading the Kelllams’ writing, Sood found that their desire to be alone was a reaction to the horrors of World War II. Art was an engineer at Lockheed Martin, which built planes for the war.

“It’s clear in his journals that their move was a reaction to news throughout the time, he was horrified with the military developments that had taken place,” said Sood. “The atom bomb horrified them.”


Loudon Wainwright III and Becky Ann Baker in the Maine-made and Maine-set film “We Were An Island.” Photo courtesy of Folk On Productions

The couple sold their house in Los Angeles and used the money to buy 522-acre Placentia Island, between Swans Island and Bass Harbor. It cost an estimated $7,500 at the time, the filmmakers said. Blanchard said the couple had a small financial “safety net” that included gifts from their parents. They used that money the whole time they lived on the island, to buy groceries and other necessities.

“They were certainly not well off,” said Blanchard.

The movie was shot last June in the Mount Desert town of Somesville, in and around a cabin owned by Blanchard. They also filmed on Placentia Island, but the Kellam house no longer stands. The director of photography was Dean Merrill, who is based in Portland.

Logue said that Blanchard’s book was the film crew’s “bible,” and they used it to discover moments of tension between the couple while on the island. One was when Art considered leaving the island and applied for a teaching job at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“That was something Nan was really hurt by,” Logue said. “They had some moments when they had to try to balance things, seeking fulfillment and life but also dealing with health concerns, family goals, career goals.”

The couple communicated with fishermen and passing boats by using a flag system. A red flag signaled trouble, and meant they needed a fisherman to come.


The younger Kellams are played by two actors who are married in real life, Jennifer Mudge and Chris Henry Coffey. Mudge said it helped her to see the island where the Kellams lived, to film in the same general area, and to see the quiet, peaceful surroundings the Kellams would have seen. She said it also helped that they were able to use the same dory the Kellams used, preserved all these years by the Tremont Historical Society. The dory was built by local boatbuilder Cliff Rich, who knew the Kellams. In the film he’s played by his grandson, Chummy Rich.

“All these things really helped us feel immersed in the story, and that’s a special thing,” said Mudge, who plays young Nan Kellam. “It’s such an intriguing story, very cinematic.”

After the screenings in Bar Harbor and Rockland, the film likely will be shown elsewhere in Maine this summer.

The filmmakers say they shot enough footage for a feature-length film and at some point may turn it into a longer film. But instead of taking extra time to do that, they felt it was important to get the Kellam’s story on film now.

“We decided to cut it short and start sharing it with the world,” Sood said.




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