Harry Tappan Heher launched his new film, “The Mistover Tale,” last weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center before taking it on to New York. It will also be available for purchase or download before the holidays.
“I wanted to screen it here in October,” Mr. Heher told The Times last weekend. “It’s about the off-season.” Influenced by Thomas Hardy’s novel “The Return of the Native,” Mr. Heher wrote the first draft of “The Mistover Tale” in “a little Island shack in the middle of nowhere” when he was living in West Tisbury in 1999. Cinematographer Michael McDonough worked with the director to complete principal photography for the film over the fall and winter of 2000–01. After losing both his parents to cancer, Mr. Heher shelved the project, resuming work on it in 2013.
“I really was inspired by the Island and the location,” he said. “It’s a very moody film, and there’s a ghost element.” He took the emotional core of the Hardy novel and applied it to the Vineyard as it seemed to him in the earlier era of the 1970s. “It was 10 years before I ever set foot on the Island,” he said. Like “The Return of the Native,” the story focuses on the intertwined and troubled relationships of two couples living on the Island. Cliona MacEgan (Naomi Packard Dunn) is a dark-haired beauty eager to leave the Island and move to New York to pursue an artistic career. She has carried on an affair with the ne’er-do-well Ned Luce (Kevin Rice), who is set to marry Tamsin Goodrich (Heidi Pulkkinen). Tamsin lives with her prickly, aristocratic mother Priscilla (retired Island Theatre Workshop artistic director Lee Fierro) in what was their summer house and is now their permanent home. Despite his attachment to Cliona, Ned feels obligated to marry Tamsin because of the baby they are expecting. When Tamsin’s brother Henry (Heher) arrives on-Island, he falls in love with Cliona and they marry. The catch is that he wants to stay on the Island, unlike Cliona.
Just as important as the characters in “The Mistover Tale” is the Vineyard setting. The film begins with stunning long shots of the surf, ocean, salt ponds, fields, and sunsets, which, combined with the original music by Jerome Leroy, create a powerful and haunting, often foggy background. The director alternates long shots of the Island’s rural beauty with scenes from the storyline. The characters’ involvement with the Island, particularly in the case of Cliona, who feels trapped there, weighs heavily on them. It ultimately determines their destiny. Mr. Heher and cinematographer McDonough primarily use medium and long shots without relying on Hollywood-style closeups, to build the role of the Vineyard landscape in the characters’ lives.
“It’s not a big Hollywood production,” Mr. Heher said. “I wanted it to have a gritty feel.” He also said, “The Vineyard is full of these interesting people who remind you of people you knew. They retain their ghosts.” An early version of “The Mistover Tale,” which is produced by Mr. Heher’s independent film company Pan+Hera Pictures, was screened on-Island in 2014. Mr. Heher was able to complete production through the fundraising website Indiegogo, and is now working on the film’s distribution.
Though based in New York, Mr. Heher summers on the Vineyard. His next project is “Benedictions from Mali,” a nonfiction film memoir based on his time in the Peace Corps in the West African nation.
For more information, visit themistovertale.com.