Saturday, August 6, 2016

Questioning the Mega-Mansions of Martha's Vineyard

It's going to be a lively Monday night on Martha's Vineyard.

As part of the local film festival's Summer Film Series, two more screenings will be held at 6 and 8 p.m. of One Big Home, an 82-minute feature documentary about the rise of mega-mansion construction on the island. The film was directed by Martha's Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) founder Thomas Bena, who is also a local carpenter.

In the trailer, Bena is seen driving to a construction site in Chilmark. The August 8th screenings are being held at the Chilmark Community Center, and will feature Q&As with Bena, editors James Holland and Liz Witham, and film participants Peter Breese, Chris Murphy, Tobias Vanderhoop and David Silverman.

It took Bena 12 years to make the documentary. Part of the reason for that, as he recently explained to WBUR-FM, was an ironic personal crossroads:

Bena and his pregnant partner decide it was time to buy a bigger house with her inheritance. Then they tear down an aging structure in order to build a new one.
Bena recalls his moral dilemma: “I was very torn with, 'Is this right action? Do I need a 2,300 square foot house?' ” he asks aloud, as he does in the film some eight years prior. “And when you add the lofts it’s 2,900 square feet — that’s a big house. That’s twice the size of the house I was raised in. It was great conflict that wasn’t manufactured for the film.”
In the film, Bena admits he felt like a sellout. He decided to put his camera down to focus on his family, not knowing if he’d finish.

Another flashpoint came later, when the film festival Bena founded announced it was going to purchase 12 acres of rural land in West Tisbury to build a film center.

One Big Home is set to start making more distant festival rounds in September, beginning with a pair of screenings at DocUtah. Its power is well summed up in the reviews section by fellow filmmaker Alan Berliner:

"This is a vividly told first-person exploration of the cultural and economic divide between those who choose to build large and extravagant homes in the affluent villages of Martha’s Vineyard, and those who believe in keeping the character of their local communities intact by limiting the scale and scope of new construction. While the film uses Martha’s Vineyard as its geographic center, the compelling set of issues, ironies, and controversies it raises are relevant to cities, towns and villages all over the world — where forces of change push against history and tradition, and voices of individual expression grapple with the chorus of community opinion."

[One Big Home]

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