When Brad Silberling was 11 years old his father, a television executive in Los Angeles, dropped him off at a movie theatre on his way to work. The year was 1975 and the movie was Jaws. It changed young Brad’s life.

“My head was so spun by the movie, and it was the first time I had a sense of an authorial hand,” Mr. Silberling said. “I was like, wow, someone just took me through that experience. I really felt it. I went home that day and took my dad’s Super 8 camera and started working.”

But holding a camera in his hand wasn’t enough. He felt he needed to see the place it was filmed too. So the next summer, at the age of 12, he convinced his family to let him travel from Los Angeles to his grandmother’s house in New Hampshire. Then he convinced her to bring him to Martha’s Vineyard.

“We came over for the day and I took the blue bus around the Island and of course everybody had been an extra in the movie,” Mr. Silberling recalled. “I sat by the driver and kept peppering him with questions, and he pointed out every location.”

But Mr. Silberling wasn’t done. Over the next few years he would continue to cajole other family members to bring him to the Island so he could retrace his steps again and again.

Both filmmaking and the Vineyard became essential parts of his life. Mr. Silberling and his wife Amy Brenneman are seasonal residents of West Tisbury. His filmmaking career includes directing movies such as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Moonlight Mile, two of his many films, and television credits ranging from NYPD Blue (where he met his wife), Doogie Howser, Jane the Virgin — the list is long.

After seeing Jaws, Mr. Silberling made a pilgrimage to the Vineyard at age 12. — Jeanna Shepard

On Monday, Mr. Silberling will present his latest film, An Ordinary Man, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven. It will be the first time anyone outside of his family and a few friends have seen the movie.

“I’m beyond thrilled to show it on the Vineyard,” he said during an interview on his West Tisbury porch, a family of ospreys nesting on a pole nearby, the mother returning with a fish for her brood. “You call the general audience non-combatants, people who haven’t had to suffer or have too much invested. They are there to see a story. You sense it, you feel it.”

All movies go through this process one way or another, but because this is a small film with a difficult subject matter heading out into a present day landscape awash in big budget flash, he will be especially attentive.

“I feel the need to advertise this is not a summer movie,” he said.

An Ordinary Man is set in Belgrade and stars Ben Kingsley as a fugitive war criminal. His character is based on a real-life general who committed atrocities during the Yugoslav war and is now awaiting sentencing at the Hague for war crimes.

Mr. Silberling wrote, directed and produced the movie, which is essentially a duet between Kingsley’s character who is hiding in plain sight in Belgrade, helped by a group of loyalists who shuttle him from one safe house to another, and his maid played by Hera Hilmar.

To say much more about the plot would give away the story. The movie is quiet, forceful, poetic and tragic. Every beat counts. But understanding the genesis of the film helps make sense of why Mr. Silberling would choose to make a movie that in essence humanizes a war criminal.

Throughout his career, Mr. Silberling has created a long list of credits that veer from big budget comedies to smaller personal films that deal with hard subjects. In 2002 he wrote and directed Moonlight Mile, based on the real-life murder of his girlfriend. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Mr. Silberling moved in with his girlfriend’s parents, creating a cocoon of grief. That film explored the grieving process, one that was not simply a weepy affair but that explored a variety of emotions including dark comedy, which Mr. Silberling said was more true to his experience.

While screening the film at a festival in Berlin, he was approached by organizers of a film festival in Sarajevo. The festival had started years before when the city was beseiged during the war and it was mostly a group of people huddled around a VCR in a garage. Watching movies was both an escape from the ravages of war — audience members had to avoid snipers on the way to see a movie — and a way to still feel part of the larger world.

After the war the festival became an outdoor event with movies shown in the town square.

“My movie was definitely about moving through grieving and the possibilities of life so they thought it would be appropriate,” Mr. Silberling said. “I went and had the most extraordinary experience.”

He returned to Sarajevo many times, showing more movies, teaching master classes and touring the war ravaged countryside. The place and the people became a part of him.

Then, in 2007, he read about a Serbian war criminal hiding in plain sight on the streets of Belgrade.

“I was retiring my old truck to the Vineyard from the West Coast,” he said. “I was told to meet at Dunkin’ Donuts over in Falmouth, so I was over the day after Christmas waiting and sitting there reading The New York Times. It was a slow news day so there was space on the front page, below the fold, for a human interest story. And there was this remarkable story about one of the last two remaining fugitive war criminals from the Balkan wars, the Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, who was finally brought in after I wrote this script, maybe nine months after I turned it in.”

The general was a huge personality and social animal now living in squalid safe houses, usually by himself, or for a time in an apartment with a maid.

“So my storyteller brain kind of went crazy with that.”

The script does not dwell on the atrocities, there are no flashbacks, but it does not hide the character’s past either. It is more concerned with the present, finding out both who this man is, where a heart may still beat and what the circumstances might be for a narrative arc that includes how a man like this could truly be punished for his actions.

“I tried to create the story’s conclusion that for me puts him where I need him to be and that’s the part of me that spent time over there, that’s like, how do these people get punished other than on a pure human emotional level because there is no other real punishment.”

Ben Kingsley is masterful in the role.

“Who was it, Phil Jackson talking about coaching certain players, you don’t need to teach them fundamentals, you are talking plays,” Mr. Silberling said referring to directing Mr. Kingsley. “You can all agree on a play and how to do it.”

In this case, character and story led the way.

“When I met Kingsley I said to him, can you play this character without judging him? Meaning what’s disturbing about the character, and I know it will be a challenge for the audience, he’s really seductive.”

On Monday night, in addition to the noncombatant audience, Mr. Silberling’s family will be in attendance including his mother, Joyce Silberling. His parents eventually moved to the Island full time, following the path begun by their son at age 12, agreeing that the Vineyard is a special place. Not long after they moved here, however, his father Bob contracted ALS. He died in 2013 and is buried in Vineyard Haven.

“My dad watched my whole journey,” Mr. Silberling said. “It is tough to go into the entertainment business, but he was always so supportive. He could have been the opposite, he dissuaded so many others, but for me he was super supportive from the day I told him I wanted to be a filmmaker. His favorite thing was to come and spend time on the set. He could be there from call to wrap.”

He still is, no doubt about it.

An Ordinary Man screens on July 17 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a discussion afterwards with writer/director Brad Silberling. Visit mvfilmsociety.com for tickets.