Gentrification comes in many forms. On the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, where presidents and celebrities vacation, trophy homes threaten to destroy the island’s unique character. Twelve years in the making, One Big Home follows one carpenter’s journey to understand the trend toward giant houses. When he feels complicit in wrecking the place he calls home, he takes off his tool belt and picks up a camera. Bumping up against angry homeowners and builders who look the other way, he works with his community and attempts to pass a new bylaw to limit house size.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Thomas Bena
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I made ONE BIG HOME because I felt like I was doing harm to the planet by building large homes that would sit empty for most of the year and yet remain heated—wasting so many resources.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
You should watch my film because it shows, in a very real, DIY manner, what is involved in moving forward with change in a community. Of course, there is anger, struggle and confusion, yet there is also a very common journey here, one that we can all learn from. We all have a role to play in creating the destiny of our community.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I worked really hard, with 3 editors over 12 years, to make a film that was universal and personal. I dug deep and asked myself and my film subjects the hard questions—the real questions—and that tension is what pulls you through the film. I explore things we can all relate too—money, family, children, and housing.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I started out as an angry young guy—pissed off that I was building houses for rich people that would sit empty for 10 months or more—yet would be heated year round. I was horrified by the waste and by the fact that these people often had 2, 3, or 4 other homes! The incredible inequality really angered me. Then, as I started meeting the people, talking with them, I started to change a bit—they weren’t “bad” people. When I interviewed tradespeople with conflicting opinions, that also changed me in some way, but the real evolution of the story came when I fell in love, had a child, and set out to build my own house. And it wasn’t a small one.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Pretty much all over the spectrum but by and large people seem relieved that someone is talking about this issue. The film is not just about a wealthy summer community. Gentrification comes in many forms and this film is a starter course in how to stand up to it.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Not really. I know that sounds a bit arrogant but at most screenings people bring up the same questions, “Did you make enemies? What has been the reaction? What did Peter Breese think?” I guess the one thing I have found surprising is how much people want to avoid conflict and conversations with others that they disagree with. I’m guilty of that too.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I want people to know that they can have an affect on their community. I hope that it inspires more people around the world to stand up and work to create more sustainable towns and cities. I believe we need to be acting more prudently and not simply building more and having more, because we can. As film subject and grocer Steve Bernier says, “That part of this planet’s history is behind us.”
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I need funds for PR and to help organize more screenings of the film. From day one this has been a true DIY production. My nest egg is in it and I’d like help to continue to get it out there.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
In the town of Truro, on Cape Cod, they used the film as a way to galvanize support for their own big house bylaw. They screened it 6 times and discussed it afterwards. They also used our bylaw as a template of sorts. To see my film inspire direct action, that is a dream come true.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Do you think it is appropriate to tell somebody how big their house can be?
Would you like to add anything else?
I truly hope that each of us stands up and takes one action towards making the world a better place, and that we, as a species, work together more and more each day. It’s our one big home.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
In addition to traveling and speaking about the power of communities to determine their destiny, Thomas Bena runs The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which he founded 17 years ago. Not only do they program films year-round, they teach filmmaking to children. www.tmvff.org
In addition to editing and producing ONE BIG HOME, James Holland is currently developing a feature length narrative biographical film that he will write and direct.
Interview: June 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
One Big Home
Man vs. Mansion
Length: 88 minutes
Director: Thomas Bena
Producer: Thomas Bena, James Holland
Writer: Thomas Bena
About the writer, director and producer:
Thomas Bena -- Thomas founded the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (now in its seventeenth season). One Big Home is his first feature-length documentary film.
James Holland -- James designed motion graphics and title sequences for Unlocking the Cage (Pennebaker/Hegedus Films), In My Father’s House (Break Thru Films), and One Big Home.
Key cast: Chris Murphy (retired fisherman), Peter Breese (architect), Doug Liman (filmmaker), Mike Wallace (journalist)
Looking for buyers, distributors, film festival directors, and journalists
Social media handles:
Funders: Thomas Bena, Steve Bernier, Arleen McGlade, Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte
Made in association with: Center for Independent Documentary, The Media Darlings, Film-Truth Productions, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services
Where can I see it in the next month?
Jun 02 | Washington Island, Wisconsin: Trueblood Performing Arts Center, 7:30 PM
Jun 08 | Telluride, Colorado: The Wilkinson Public Library
Jun 14 | Nantucket, Massachusetts: Nantucket Atheneum, 7 PM
Jun 16 | Petersham, Massachusetts: Harvard Forest, Fischer Museum, 6:30 PM
Jun 23 | Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: City of Edmonton's Mind for Planning, 12 PM (private event)
Jun 28 | Los Angeles, California: Latch Collective Tiny House Film Series
Jul 6 | Southampton, New York: Southampton Arts Center, HAMPTONS TAKE 2 DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL, 7 PM
Jul 13 | Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts: Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Assocation, MVCMA Tabernacle, 8 PM
Jul 17 | Melbourne, Australia: MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL