Over a distinguished sixteen-year history, one of the hallmarks of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival has been its willingness to provoke debate over controversial topics. Ironically, the festival has now landed in the midst of its own firestorm, and so far is dealing uncomfortably with the heat.

No doubt the festival did not mean to cause an uproar when it disclosed to members last week it was buying the Walsh property off Old County Road in West Tisbury with hopes of locating a permanent campus there. Festival director Thomas Bena has said there are no fixed plans for the site, and that the festival had always intended to involve the community in a vision for the location.

But in the absence of detailed plans, neighbors and others have seized on what little information was presented in March to the West Tisbury planning board to reject the very idea of siting the festival in a rural residential area.

Whatever the festival imagined in good faith would be the order of events has now been disrupted by a loud and sustained public outcry. Whether or not the criticism is fair, it’s time for the festival to address the neighbors’ concerns.

Evolving from its home-grown beginnings as a simple winter film festival to a vibrant, intellectual year-round cultural institution, MVFF has accomplished much in the past sixteen years. Its own commitment to free speech reminds us of Supreme Court Louis Brandeis’s prescription for countering misinformation: more speech.