In their decades-long careers as documentary filmmakers, Vineyarders Kate Davis and David Heilbroner have traveled the country covering nationally-recognizable issues from FBI entrapment to police violence.

Their latest film hits much closer to home.

Premiering at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Sept. 16, Martha’s Vineyard vs. DeSantis covers the two migrant flights that arrived on the Island last September and the ensuing legal battles against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration’s migrant relocation program.

The screening takes place one year and two days after the migrants, mostly from Venezuela, landed unexpectedly at the Martha’s Vineyard airport. — Jeanna Shepard

The screening takes place one year and two days after the migrants, mostly from Venezuela, landed unexpectedly at the Martha’s Vineyard airport on Sept. 14, 2022. Still in final editing stages, the finished version of the film will be broadcast on MSNBC on Oct. 8.

“It’s a dream, in a way, to land a story in our backyard,” Ms. Davis said. “We spent many times traveling around the United States...I feel like our background here made it feel accessible in a way.”

The husband and wife filmmaking team have been nominated for an Academy Award for their past work. They are seasonal residents of the Vineyard, splitting their time between Chilmark and Manhattan.

For Martha’s Vineyard vs. DeSantis, the filmmakers wove together right-wing and national media narratives with local perspectives. They wanted to complicate existing stereotypes about the Vineyard and its response, Ms. Davis said, having observed firsthand the diversity on-Island that had largely been overlooked in the national media.

“Reframing the right-wing rhetoric around this...beating those stereotypes was really gratifying to be able to do,” she said.

The documentary opens with Harbor Homes shelter coordinator Lisa Belcastro on the docks of Edgartown just a few weeks after her work helping to house and care for the migrants became national news.

It is a week into the Island’s annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and Ms. Belcastro is an avid fisherman. Fish guts and blood spill onto the aged wood as Ms. Belcastro weighs in her catch.

The filmmakers had reached out to interview Ms. Belcastro about her involvement in the Island’s migrant response when she told them she was out fishing, Mr. Heilbroner said. They grabbed their cameras to meet her on the docks.

“What a great way to lead the story, to show the Vineyard as it really is,” Mr. Heilbroner said.

The documentary also seeks to complicate perceptions about those who seek asylum in the United States, Ms. Davis said. In fact, the couple had initially not considered covering the incident until they learned that four migrants had returned to live on the Island — at the house of their good friend Mike Benjamin.

“Kate was the one who had the light bulb go off,” Mr. Heilbroner said. “We had to jump.”

Mr. Benjamin made the introduction, and the filmmakers began spending time with Deici, Daniel, Jhorman and Eliud over the course of the fall, conducting interviews through a translator.

“With many narratives around migrants, you don’t really get to know them as human beings,” Ms. Davis said. “Four was kind of the perfect number — small enough to really focus and humanize them.”

“You can’t tell the full story of 49 migrants,” she continued. “It was sort of a gift.”

In the film, the four family members describe their journeys to the Island, their shock upon arrival and the loved ones they have left behind indefinitely. Daniel, who has two children still living in Venezuela, shares his daily video calls with his family, unable to tell them when he might return.

“We were really moved by the candor of all of them,” Ms. Davis said.

“The candor and trust,” Mr. Heilbroner added. “They were really putting their story in our hands.”

By including Deici, Daniel, Jhorman and Eliud’s stories, Ms. Davis hopes that the migrants’ plights become more tangible to the average viewer, so that audiences can truly understand what it meant to board a plane to an unfamiliar island under false pretenses.

Drawing upon Mr. Heilbroner’s former career as a prosecutor and their past experience documenting legal disputes, the film shifts to outline the ongoing legal battle between Texas law enforcement and Governor DeSantis. Island-based immigration lawyer Rachel Self is among the legal parties featured, as is Boston-based attorney Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal and Bexar County sheriff Javier Salazar.

As he learned more about the manipulations behind the migrant flights, Mr. Heilbroner said the reveals unfolded like “a spy novel.”

“We didn’t understand the amount of skulduggery from DeSantis [at first],” he said. “It was like peeling back the layers of an onion.”

To get a fuller view of the situation, Mr. Heilbroner said he reached out to Fox News for comment.

“They all said no or had no response,” he said.

The filmmakers’ ultimate goal, Mr. Heilbroner said, is to influence voters and lawmakers to bring justice to Governor DeSantis and those who helped him carry out the political stunt.

“He needs to be held accountable publicly,” Mr. Heilbroner said. “We’ve had some luck in the past with our films nudging things along.”

Still, Ms. Davis acknowledged that the political situation may be largely out of their hands. What is in their power, she said, is to do the story justice.

“You never know who might end up seeing that film,” she said. “It will also have a life just as a well-told story.”