Like many great ideas, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival was conceived at the dinner table. Brian Ditchfield, a recent graduate from theatre school, had just completed his first film, a feature length independent comedy titled The Last Will and Testament of Marlboro Patch. The cast and crew were celebrating with a final dinner at Mr. Ditchfield’s mother’s house in Edgartown.

During the meal, everybody at the table wrote down a project they hoped to accomplish that the rest of the cast and crew could help them with. Thomas Bena wrote that he wanted to create a film festival.

Until The Last Will and Testament of Marlboro Patch, Mr. Bena had never worked on a film. He was employed as a carpenter when one of his friends asked him if he would be interested in a job helping to record sound for the movie. Despite his lack of experience, Mr. Bena jumped at the opportunity and found he loved the job.

“At the end of six weeks, hanging out with all these theatre people, everyone was going around hugging and stuff,” said Mr. Bena. “I had been on a carpentry crew for years, so I was like, wow, this is just awesome.”

Naomi Foner, director and screenwriter of Very Good Girls, with granddaughter Ramona Sarsgaard. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Bena continued to work with Mr. Ditchfield and the crew to put together the first Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in March of 2001. In the first year, the festival screened five films at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, four of which played to sold-out crowds. Since then the annual festival has expanded almost every year. In 2002, the festival grew from one day to two, and in 2003 it went from two to three. Now, in it’s 14th year, the festival has grown far beyond Mr. Bena’s initial expectations, with screenings spanning the entire year.

“The first instinct was just let’s have a film festival, a one-day event, and everything from that point has just been pulling me along,” said Mr. Bena. “I don’t know where it’s going, but I am so excited to be pulled along by it.”

This year’s summer series will be the biggest in its history, with screenings taking place around the Island, including Brew and View events on Thursday nights at the Harbor View Hotel, Gazebo Dinners at the Beach Plum Inn, and outdoor screenings in Owen Park. This past Wednesday evening, the festival screened Divide in Concord, its first film of the summer season.

Every event in the summer series will include some form of communal activity. This takes different forms for different events. For example, prior to the screening of Frozen, shown outdoors at Owen Park on July 18, viewers will be invited to join in a sing-a-long. Discussions will also follow many of the films, with the actors and creators of the films attending many of the screenings.

Mr. Ditchfield feels that the ability to generate discussion about real issues is one of the most important criteria for a film’s inclusion in each year’s festival.

“When I am looking through any catalog, whether it is Sundance or anything else, I am thinking about who the guests could be and what is the event around it,” he said. “That is what excites me most about the movies.”

Post-screening discussions just as important as the films, say festival staff. — Jeanna Shepard

In addition to the regularly scheduled programs, there will be five special events held throughout the summer that will give the audience the opportunity to interact with the creative forces connected to the film. Guests this summer include Maggie Gyllenhaal, former congressman Barney Frank, Gwen Ifil and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

On July 12, Very Good Girls will be screened at the Chilmark Community Center. Screenwriter/director Naomi Foner, actors Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, and the cinematographer Bobby Bukowski will all be on hand to answer questions after the film.

Very Good Girls debuted at Sundance last year, and Ms. Foner is looking forward to bringing the film back to the Vineyard. She has been spending time on Martha’s Vineyard since the 1970s, and showing the film at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival feels like coming home.

“For me this is the celebration because I feel like I am among my friends and family, and in the place that I think is the most special on the planet,” said Ms. Foner.

Ms. Foner said she is excited about being a part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival because of the unique atmosphere that has been fostered by Mr. Bena and his team. She has attended the festival many times in the past and believes that its emphasis on community and discussion makes it a special experience.

“[The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival] is all about what I think is the best a film can do, which is opening peoples’ minds to new things and sharing,” she said. “They have the additional ability to have a conversation about it. The fact that that is possible just adds another dimension. I love that we are still sitting on folding chairs and in the community center.”

One of the biggest changes to this year’s festival will be the expanded Cinema Circus program. During previous summers, Cinema Circus has been held each Wednesday night prior to the adult programing. This year it will be held on three separate days spread out over the summer at various locations around the Island.

In addition to children’s movies, Cinema Circus encourages kids to participate in age-specific film workshops with some of the Island’s best film educators. Children as young as six will work together on film projects, including a documentary about the festival which will be created over the course of the summer. The older children will even have access to some of MVTV’s equipment, including their sets, to work on the documentary.

“They will be able to make something more polished using the MVTV equipment,” said Alexandra London-Thompson, the director of children’s programs. “We have great equipment and what the kids will be able to accomplish will be astounding. Our teachers are exceptional and they are all educators, they are all teachers and filmmakers and/or actors.”

Additionally, thanks to the generosity of one donor, Cinema Circus will be completely free this year. Over the years, the festival has relied on support and donations from individuals and businesses around the Island. Whether it be Cape Air sponsoring the festival and helping to fly guests to and from the Island, or hotels such as the Harbor View, the Menemsha Inn and the Beach Plum Inn helping to house them, the festival could not have become what it is today without the Island community.

“People help us because they see that we are just trying to do good,” said Cassie Dana who serves as production and marketing manager. “We are all really passionate about film and activism, and the Island is such a place that everyone here wants to support that.”

While the festival has received vital support from the community, the giving flows both ways. The festival is constantly adapting to better serve the community, and the organizers are always open to feedback and suggestions.

“As much as the community helps us, we want to help them,” said Ms. Dana. “That’s how we work.”