Chappaquiddick Kopechne tragedy to be revisited in indie film

The film company asked Edgartown selectmen for parking restrictions, road closings, and sign removals over two days of filming in September.

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Vehicles line up on an August evening for the Chappy ferry. - Nelson Sigelman

Edgartown selectmen Monday considered a number of requests from representatives of Apex Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based company now producing a film titled, “Chappaquiddick,” which will retell the story of the accident in which Edward (Ted) Kennedy drove off Dike Bridge and his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne died.

Mark Fitzgerald, “Boston’s leading Hollywood film location manager and scout,” according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb), was at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting along with another location manager, Kia Quinlin, to explain the particulars regarding filming of the upcoming movie. The film is now in production and producers hope to shoot scenes in Edgartown and Chappaquiddick on Sept. 7 and 8.

The story is still familiar to Islanders of a certain age. On the evening of July 18, 1969, after taking part in the Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta that day, the late Senator Kennedy, in his late thirties at the time, attended a party at a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick. Senator Kennedy and a passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old woman who had worked on his brother Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, left the party together at about a quarter past 11.

Senator Kennedy accidentally drove his Oldsmobile off the Dike Bridge and into the swirling tidal waters of Poucha Pond, according to published reports. He managed to swim free, but left the scene after attempting, he said, to free Ms. Kopechne. Her body and the automobile were removed from the water the next day after fishermen noticed the upturned car the next morning and called the police.

Senator Kennedy did not contact the police until nine or 10 hours after the event, according to accounts at the time. Then Edgartown police chief Dominick J. Arena filed an application for a complaint against Mr. Kennedy for leaving the scene of an accident. The young senator pled guilty and received a two-month suspended sentence. The events of that summer night were regularly attributed as the reason why Senator Kennedy would never campaign for president.

Public inconvenience

The Dike Bridge that now spans the narrow channel between Poucha pond and Cape Poge Bay is considerably more robust than the simple wood causeway that it replaced. The streets of Edgartown are also considerably busier.

Mr. Fitzgerald was seeking the town’s cooperation to clear Daggett Street of vehicles — the road that leads to the Chappy Ferry — pushing them up to Simpson’s Lane for a full day, along with removing signs on Dike Road, closing the road for brief interludes with the assistance of the Edgartown police. He also asked to reserve spaces on the Dike bridge lot to park 1969-era vehicles, and reserve parking spots along North Water and Morse streets and at Starbuck Neck.

Mr. Fitzgerald provided Google Earth image handouts of the areas involved in the shots needed for the film.

“You’re asking for a lot of inconvenience during a very busy, still busy, time,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

Selectman Michael Donaroma said it all sounded “okay, except for the North Water Street, Morse Street … the all-day things.”

“And Daggett Street, that’s a big problem,” Ms. Serpa added. “I don’t think we can do that.”

“Do you think there’s a two-hour window that you could give me Daggett Street?” Mr. Fitzgerald asked the selectmen.

“No,” Ms. Serpa said.

Mr. Fitzgerald told the selectmen that he had already conferred with Police Chief David Rossi and with town administrator Pam Dolby. He said he had talked to some of the residents on Chappy, including possibly renting a field at Pimpneymouse Farm during filming.

“There are some town signs we want to take down, one of which is a stop sign,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “None of this will happen until there is a police presence there in their positions on that day.” He also said they would be using the Chappy Community Center as a support space and staging area.

Selectman Michael Donaroma asked Chief Rossi what he thought about closing Daggett Street. Chief Rossi said he would “defer to Peter [Wells, Chappy Ferry owner] on that.”

Mr. Wells said that the first week of September is still busy. “There are some slow times during the day, but it’s hard to judge that,” Mr. Wells said. “It’s unpredictable.”

“Once we get started,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, “it’s going to take a couple of hours.”

“Then it’s not gonna work in my mind,” Ms. Serpa said.

Ms. Quinlin asked: “What if we did a letter giving advance notification?”

Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations, told the selectmen and the location scouts that, “If it’s a nice first week in September, it’s going to be busy, no getting around that.”

“You can’t do this in October?” Mr. Donaroma asked.

“It’s an active schedule,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “There are a lot of variables. I get these things handed to me, I don’t come up with them.”

The selectmen went back and forth with Mr. Fitzgerald, trying to come up with a solution.

“I’m going to suggest that you go back and try and work out some of the concerns,” Ms. Serpa said.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he would continue to “do some homework” and asked to be on next week’s agenda.

“When are you officially out of season?” he asked.

His question was met with a chuckle by the selectmen. Ms. Dolby said, “After the bass derby it slows down, the week after October 15.” Ms. Dolby was referring to the five-week-long Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that begins Sept. 11 and attracts thousands of participants.

Mr. Fitzgerald said the movie would be “wrapped up” by then.

“You just need to fine-tune it and come back,” Mr. Donaroma told him.

As far as an update on the particulars of the movie “Chappaquiddick,” Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms. Quinlin referred The Times to the entertainment company, which did not respond to requests for information by deadline. Variety magazine reported in July that Bruce Dern will portray Joseph Kennedy in the movie, opposite Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy, Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne, and Ed Helms as Senator Kennedy’s cousin, Joseph Gargan. Mark Ciardi and Campbell McInnes from Apex Entertainment are producing the film, which is directed by John Curran. The screenplay for the film was mentioned on 2015’s The Black List, which recognizes the best screenplays that are not yet produced.