Three years ago, in the face of development that many felt had gone too far, the town of Chilmark passed the Island’s first bylaw limiting the size of new houses. The vote at the Chilmark Community Center was celebrated with applause and cheering.

The vote is documented in Thomas Bena’s first feature-length film, One Big Home, which had its Island premiere at the town community center last week as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s summer series.

And as if echoing the earlier town meeting vote, the capacity crowd again voiced its approval with applause.

One Big Home chronicles the development of the so-called big house bylaw, which Mr. Bena helped spearhead around 2012. It also follows Mr. Bena’s own journey into parenthood over 10 years, and his evolving views related to the topic of big houses.

Thomas Bena was joined by community for a discussion at the end of the film. — Ray Ewing

Hundreds of people turned out for the premiere on June 29, filling nearly every seat in the wood-paneled community center where Chilmark holds its annual town meetings. The center also has long been a home base for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which Mr. Bena founded in 2001.

At a brief panel discussion following the film, many expressed gratitude for the film and bylaw and shared stories of outsized development in other communities around the country.

The film’s Island premiere comes on the heels of a public controversy surrounding the festival’s plans to relocate to a large tract of land in West Tisbury. The festival has since withdrawn its plans, and the future of the property remains unclear.

Mr. Bena appeared unfazed by the recent calamity, welcoming the crowd on Wednesday and encouraging participation in the discussion to follow.

“We want you guys to ask hard questions,” he said before the lights went down and the film began.

Two of the film subjects — architect Peter Breese and contractor David Knauff — who were expected to take part in the discussion did not attend. Instead, there was informal back-and-forth, mostly between Mr. Bena and audience members.

“I think the reason why it was so beautiful is because you portrayed your journey really authentically and really vulnerably,” said Saskia Vanderhoop, who appears in the film with her husband, David Vanderhoop, at their teepee in Aquinnah. “We need cultural change, and we need to discuss these issues,” she said.

One longtime Edgartown resident asked if similar efforts regarding big houses were underway on the Island. Mr. Bena said he wished they were. He drew attention to the fact that 150 years ago, land in Aquinnah was still held in common by the Wampanoag tribe. “That’s not that long ago,” he said. “We could change how we look at land ownership. It’s almost too radical to even say that, but we could change it.”

Sold out show became forum on the issue as many shared stories of outsized development in other communities. — Ray Ewing

Reiterating a theme in the film, he noted the many summer homes on the Island that remain vacant most of the year. “We all want a community,” Mr. Bena said. “We don’t want to come to an empty place. So I think we have a lot of work to do, and I hope the film begins to spark that conversation.”

Geoffrey Parkhurst, who provided before-and-after satellite images for the film, also expressed gratitude.

“I was fairly stunned when Chilmark passed the resolution it did, because in so much of our country money seems to speak louder than votes,” Mr. Parkhurst said. “I’m so grateful that we’ve put the brakes on a little bit in this place I care so much about.”

Others inquired about the nature of the bylaw, which Mr. Bena said was imperfect but has lowered the average house size in Chilmark by 40 per cent in three years. He compared big houses to other consumer trends that have faded in the face of public awareness.

“At some point it became not cool to smoke, or not cool to wear dead animals,” Mr. Bena said. “I feel like the trophy home thing is kind of like that, at least in this community.”

Annie Cook noted a similar big-house trend in Washington D.C. and elsewhere, and presented a challenge: “How do we deal with this need for an awareness paradigm shift, where it’s not that selfish need for hugeness?” she said. “It’s [about] guiding people to think more in terms of their communities.”

One moviegoer noted a growing number of resort communities in the country that prevent homeowners from heating vacant houses for long stretches. Some laughter arose when she mentioned laws that require houses long-vacant to be occupied by someone, if not the homeowner. “If you think about the housing problem on the Island, a lot would change if a lot of these places weren’t vacant,” she said.

David Vanderhoop looked out over the crowd of new and familiar faces and noted that everyone in the room had landed on the Island for a reason. He encouraged people to speak up when they saw development that they felt went awry.

“We have to move from this point on consciously into the future, so that we can preserve it for our children, for the next generation, and generations to come after that,” he said.

As the crowd began to disperse, Mr. Bena, along with editors Liz Witham and James Holland, who had also joined the discussion, lingered at the front of the room and chatted with moviegoers.

One after another, people thanked Mr. Bena for his film and service to the community before heading out into the night.

One Big Home will screen again Monday, August 8, at the Chilmark Community Center. For tickets and information, visit