In their documentary about George Ellis, a young boy from rural Maine with the unique ability to imitate loon calls, filmmakers Kevin Bay and Julia Thompson linger on the connection between his vocal talents and impending adolescence. “In a sense, George’s relationship to loons existed as a reflection of his childhood universe, imagination and language,” says Thompson.
The filmmakers capture George in the short window before he hits puberty and loses the ability to commune with loons as a result of the changes his voice will undergo. Their focus on his voice, which often experiences spontaneous cracks throughout the film’s accompanying voice-over, zeroes in on the strangeness of that liminal period between childhood and adulthood, when sudden bodily developments become more mystifying than a kid’s imagination.
In their notes about their experience filming George, Thompson and Bay wrote:
“Everything seems to be failing, or else the opposite: working so well that it cannot be stopped without ripping the power channels out, resetting computer chips, forcing a start from zero. Can you tell us one more time what it feels like to lose your childhood voice? It begins to rain lightly; we are blessed by water falling on water.” KEVIN BAY
“Once his voice changed that communication with loons would never be the same, much like how the world at large would no longer experience him as a child. On a macro level George’s fleeting communication with loons is a window into sentient beings’ impermanence.” JULIA THOMPSON
Bay and Thompson’s shared desire to experience and depict what often goes unnoticed nowadays is probably what led them to Patten, ME after viewing a facebook video of the extraordinary boy in this film; it is also what awards their short documentary such textural and emotional depth. The two directors’ attentive eyes and ears for minutiae — bouncing sunbeams, crunching leaves, vocal cracks — results in an immersive film that befits its subject’s wondrous approach to life.
Kevin Bay and Julia Thompson are both multi-hyphenate artists. They have collaborated together on three films: Running Past (2019), This Land, Our Voices (2020), and Little Boy Loon (2023). Bay has produced several feature films, including the documentary Menendez Brothers: Misjudged? (2022) and Permanent Collection (2020), a film about a misanthropic bartender. He has also been published in scientific journals as a neuroscientist and a chemist, co-authored a cookbook, and recorded with musicians as a studio drummer. Thompson recently produced Dustin Guy Defa’s The Adults (2023). Previously, they collaborated with Eimi Imanishi on Vimeo Staff Pick One Up (2017), were a Sundance Producers Lab Fellow, and participated in the Rotterdam Film Lab. They are currently writing and series-producing a nonfiction podcast that will launch next year, and developing a project with Kevin Bay about fabrics that is informed by Sofia Thanhauser’s book Worn.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.