A growing Vineyard trade: Filmmaking part II

Local filmmaker Jeremy Mayhew. — Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mayhew

Martha’s Vineyard is home to all sorts of art forms, from photography to music, painting to poetry. Over the past decade another scene has increasingly shown its face across the Island, one that allows for the world to be brought to the Island and vice versa: filmmaking.

To learn about the lives and works of some of the filmmakers who were raised here or washed ashore later on, The Times interviewed some of the well-known filmmakers of the Island. Part I can be found in the June 28 Arts Supplement, or online at mvtimes.com/2012/06/27/growing-island-trade-art-filmmaking-11131/.

Victoria Campbell

Born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, Victoria Campbell’s interest in the arts began with theater at The Vineyard Playhouse, where she was a fixture throughout her childhood.

She left the Vineyard after graduating from the regional high school and, with a degree in acting from Bard College, traveled to New York to perform in off-off-Broadway plays and Indie films. She further pursued her acting career in Island filmmaker Dave Kann’s 2005 horror flick, “Ancient Evil 2: Guardian of the Underworld,” and Taylor Toole’s “Black Eyed Girl,” both shot on Martha’s Vineyard, before returning to make her first film in 2006.

“I had always wanted to make films,” said Ms. Campbell. Like her favorite artists (Truffaut, Godard, and Bunuel, to name a few), Ms. Campbell “wanted to make small, intimate, quirky films and work with people I admire and feel close to, and to be able to act in some of my films.” The Island has also provided inspiration for her; she describes it as “a pool of madly, wonderfully creative people.”

Her first film, “House of Bones,” chronicles the events of a final summer in her family’s old Vineyard house, from the sale that was instigated by her grandmother’s death to the slow demolition process. It was well received by the Island and the greater U.S, showed at festivals such as Ohio’s Chagrin Falls Festival, and is available for rent at Island Entertainment in Vineyard Haven.

A second film is on the horizon for Ms. Campbell as she develops her thesis at the School of Visual Arts Graduate School in New York City, a project which, for the past two years, has taken her to and from Haiti. There she documents the actions of Gaston Jean Edy, a voodoo priest from a small neighborhood in Port au Prince, whom she befriended while filming his efforts to run a clinic after the 2010 earthquake. Now she follows him around the globe, after his charitable cause took a devastating turn.

“He started as a hero in his neighborhood by helping a clinic get on its feet, and finished as a thief. He took all the money that was donated and took off with his kids for Canada,” she said. “I am soon to track him down there.” The film, which will likely be finished by the time she graduates next year, has become the story of a heist with voodoo spells and magical realism, she said.

In between school and her thesis, Ms. Campbell is creating a series of experimental, art-based short films (available at vimeo.com/user7791475/videos) about her life in New York, Haiti, and on the Vineyard, covering subjects from herself to friends to a shoemaker’s life in the city.

“I like the outcasts of the world and the stories of people who usually have no voice,” she said. “Those are the stories I love and the people I gravitate towards.”

Brian Ditchfield

Brian Ditchfield is another example of an Island actor-turned-filmmaker. He was a common face in the theater scene here as a child and teenager and studied theater at Boston University before trying his hand at making films.

Mr. Ditchfield’s first and only feature film, “The Mystery of Marlboro Patch,” was shot on the Vineyard in 2000. It was based on his father Michael Ditchfield’s novel, “The Last Will and Testament of Marlboro Patch.”

“It was an overly ambitious project,” Mr. Ditchfield said. “I was 21 and didn’t know any better. You think, ‘Of course I can have a movie with 100 people in it, shot in 20 some odd locations.’ The place of youthful folly is a really fun place to be; you don’t know any better, so you just do it.”

Mr. Ditchfield describes his experiences on the set as his personal film school, and it was there that he met Thomas Bena, with whom he currently co-runs the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF).

Mr. Ditchfield migrated back to the Island with his wife, Brooke, in 2007 after a stretch in Chicago making industrial and documentary short films for Midwest clientele through Shack Productions, a company he founded with his friends from BU. He now dedicates his time to MVFF as the Managing Director, working with a group of local artists and filmmakers to bring international independent films to Martha’s Vineyard. He also works to expand the festival’s reach outside of its tucked-away home in Chilmark through a film project with West Tisbury School fourth graders.

“Kids today are so much more tech savvy than when I was their age,” said Mr. Ditchfield. “Film education in school can show them that it really isn’t that hard to make a movie.”

During the 2011-2012 school year, Mr. Ditchfield was able to use his skills as an actor, director, cameraman, and teacher, as he guided the fourth graders through what for many of them was a first experience in front of and behind the camera. The product was a recording of theatrical and film renderings of “Aesop’s Fables,” which will air on MVTV this summer.

This coming August Mr. Ditchfield will begin shooting a short film that is a meditation on art. It will tell the story of a couple in a stalemated argument about an abstract piece in an art gallery. The film will be funded through grants from the Local Cultural Council and the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Arts.

In addition to preparing for his film, Mr. Ditchfield spends his summer behind the scenes and on the site of the MVFF summer series. On Wednesday evenings he can be found under the Little Big Top Tent on the lawn of the Chilmark Community Center in a jacket and top hat as the Cinema Circus ringmaster.

Of his plans for the rest of the summer, Mr. Ditchfield said with a smile, “My wife is having a baby in September, so if we can make the film happen it will be a quite a feat.”

Jeremy Mayhew

Coming from one of Martha’s Vineyard’s oldest families, the Island has been both a home and an inspiration for filmmaker Jeremy Mayhew.

“My family has lived here since the 1640s,” Mr. Mayhew said. “The Island is a part of me.”

Mr. Mayhew grew up on Quitsa pond in Chilmark. His interest in film began at age 11 when his father, Gregory Mayhew, a commercial fisherman, assigned him the job of documenting their summer swordfishing trips. “I often spent more time discovering tricks I could do with the camera than actually focusing in on the harpooner or beautiful swordfish,” he said, adding, “to my father’s disappointment at the time.”

After graduating from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a degree in filmmaking, he made up for the lost footage with his 1999 film, “Striker’s Passing,” an homage to his father in the form of a feature length documentary about the commercial harpoon swordfishery, shot entirely on 16mm film. It is available for rent at Island Entertainment and Island libraries.

He has since collaborated with other local filmmakers to create short and feature-length documentary films, such as the award-winning documentary on child slave labor, “Stolen Childhoods,” with Georgia and Len Morris of Galen Films, and “Conversations with Windemere,” a short documentary that he made with his wife, Michele, and Island filmmakers Thomas Bena and Dan Quigly, about the patients of the Oak Bluffs nursing home. He also does film bill design for MVFF and creates the annual international shorts program.

Mr. Mayhew’s works have shown at local, national, and international film festival’s and at venues such as Japan’s Yamagata International Documentary Film Archive and The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.

Today, between spending time with his wife and his four-month old twin daughters, Mr. Mayhew works on a variety of stop-motion and time-lapse videos, which can be seen at vimeo.com/JeremyMayhew, and on motion design for Portrayal Film Inc., which is owned by Island-based Academy Award nominee Sara Nesson.

His experiences on the Island continue to inspire his work. “I come from a long line of fishermen, whalers and seafarers,” he said. “When you’re a kid and you find yourself relying on a small crew 200 miles offshore you start to realize you are all, ultimately, at the mercy of mother nature out there. There’s something about the mysteries and vastness of the universe and our very existence that really resonates with me because of this. It’s influenced everything from how I view the world to how I approach anything creative.”

More information about Mr. Mayhew and his films is available at his website (currently under construction), oceanscapearts.net.