When Harry Tappan Heher started writing the The Mistover Tale 16 years ago, he saw the film as nothing more than an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native. Using the novel as his guide, he wrote a screenplay that depicts the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard, while simultaneously revealing the Island’s dark sides. He focused on Hardy’s characters that felt isolated or trapped, and the decisions that they made as a result.
In his first draft, Mr. Heher stuck as closely to the events and themes of the novel as he could. As he continued to work and rework the script though, slowly it morphed into something unique. When both of his parents tragically passed away, Mr. Heher worked his own grief into the story, merging Hardy’s fictional world with his own reality.
“I had written a story that was a fiction of losing parents and going through this death and grief and tragedy and then I went through it myself in reality right after it was shot. I threw in my own life experiences and added in an ending,” he said in a recent interview.
“It was a little bit of life imitating art there which I certainly did not expect or even think about when I was writing it or shooting it for the first time.”
Through this exploration of his own grief, as well Hardy’s dark themes, Mr. Heher hopes to show a side of the Island that vacationers and summer residents might never see. He looks at the dichotomy between how the Vineyard is perceived by the outside world and its sometimes difficult reality. Rather than reveling in the Island’s beauty, he looks beneath into the struggles that some Islanders face.
“We explore a lot of the dark side of the Island. A lot of it is people marrying the wrong people or being involved with the wrong people. There’s alcohol or drug addiction and some domestic violence. All of these pop up in mild ways in the film and turn the events of the characters lives. I hope that we can make people think about those issues.”
Despite the dark undertones of the film though, ultimately The Mistover Tale is a celebration of the Island. Mr. Heher grew up in Princeton, N.J., occasionally visiting the Vineyard during the summers. When his sister married into a family that owned property on the Island, he started to spend more time here. In college, he spent two summers working on the Vineyard, and later got a job here as a location scout for a photography production company out of New York. Like so many others who have spent time on the Island, Mr. Heher fell in love with the landscapes and unique atmosphere.
“I really love the Island. I love the spirit, I love the people, I love the beauty of nature. I think its one of the most beautiful places on earth and one of the places where I feel most comfortable,” he said.
Although the film was made for an international audience and will be submitted to film festivals around the world, Mr. Heher believes the film will resonate differently for viewers on the Island. The Mistover Tale was not just shot on the Vineyard, but explores the unique realities that are specific to the place. The film looks at the dynamics of the six towns, the summer and winter communities, and the many different types of people who spend time here. For Island residents, the people and the landmarks in the film will look very familiar, and may strike close to home.
After 16 years of working on the film on and off, The Mistover Tale is nearly ready to be released. Mr. Heher is currently raising money through a crowdfunding campaign to go toward color correction and to finalize the audio mix. He hopes to submit the film to festivals this fall.
For more information about the film and its crowdfunding campaign, visit themistovertale.com.