On the Beauty of Old Things

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Kenyan Lewis and Grace Kelsey, vintage collectors and designers in Accord, New York, live in the dreamy world of faded Americana that they also create in their work. This gorgeous short documentary by Gary Nadeau captures their playful spirit and sharp eye for finding the romance and elegance in handmade, worn objects. Nadeau talks about the making of the film in an interview below.

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of this project?

Gary Nadeau: The last few years I’ve directed dozens of short profile/portrait films on some pretty remarkable people. Chip Kidd, Rufus Wainwright, Louise Campbell and Michael Graves to name a few. Most of these projects were branded content and were tailored for a specific client or purpose.

Kenyan & Grace was the first profile/portrait that I did independent of client or brand. Because I was acting independently, the only person I really needed to please was myself. Which meant I could be as bold and experimental as I wanted to be. It also allowed me to have a beer on set.

How did you find Kenyan and Grace and decide to tell their story?

I met Kenyan about ten years ago when he worked at The Apartment Creative Agency in Soho for my friends Stefan Boublil and Gina Alvarez. Kenyan is such a kind spirit. He’s someone you genuinely like to be around. He has this infectious laugh and a real “hand-made” approach to his work.

I had recently seen an article about Kenyan and Grace online. Their love of vintage “American Made” objects had infiltrated every aspect of their life. From the clothes they wear, the props they create, to the way they’ve furnished their home. They have a very strong point of view and aesthetic – which always makes for a good story and visuals. I took a trip to their home in Accord, NY with cinematographer Jason Koontz. We had a look around the space and I was instantly smitten. So we scheduled the shoot for a couple days over the summer.

For the shoot I wanted to create a heightened reality for the non-interview section of the piece – something playful – much like the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” sequence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Luckily Grace and Kenyan didn’t hesitate to go along with some of my playful scenarios, e.g. Kenyan pushing Grace on the swing, dancing to the vintage tunes, etc. While those moments were inspired by actual things that they do, they were definitely staged but not performed.

The designers put the finishing touches on a giant "R" for a Ralph Lauren window display.

One might consider Vimeo and the online world of short form video a counterpoint to Hollywood feature films. You've worked in both formats -- is the creative process very different?

In Hollywood, if you’re fortunate and you carve out a successful directing career, you may get to make a film, at most, every couple years?

Making a feature film from start to finish is a monumental task BUT sometimes those films never come to fruition and you have to start all over again! I know – I’ve been there. But short form films have a much quicker turn around, smaller budgets. They get done. I have directed, produced almost fifty short films over the last three years. I have learned more about “directing” during this period than any other time in my life.  

Also, most of these projects are done on budgets that wouldn’t even equal one day’s craft service table on a feature film. So you have to know your limits and then surpass them … quickly! So I think that is the main difference, the amount of output. But otherwise – once the cameras roll – it’s all the same. I’ve directed 60-person crews and one-person crews. The creative process is the same for me. I’m just better at it now.

What's next for you?

I have no idea. Which is both exhilarating and exhausting. Especially with three kids in the mix. I will continue to create short form content. This year I wrote and directed a narrative short Pizza Verdi that has been well received and I hope to create more pieces like Kenyan & Grace too. I am also developing a feature length project.

For more films by Gary Nadeau, visit http://www.garynadeau.com/.

Via Vimeo's HD channel.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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