A documentary film about substance use disorders on Martha’s Vineyard premieres this Friday, illuminating stories of Islanders who have battled addiction and shining a light on a perennial issue that often goes undiscussed.

The hour-long documentary, called On Island, was created by the public health nonprofit Public Good Projects in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition. The film is part of a community campaign to change attitudes and behaviors around substance use on the Island. It premiers Friday, Feb. 12.

“A sea change is required on this Island,” Dr. Joe Smyser, Public Goods Projects CEO, wrote in an announcement for the film. “Our job here was to help the community of Martha’s Vineyard tell its own story so that it has a starting point to decide where to go next.”

Directed and narrated by Trevor Kane, creative director at the organization, the movie follows the story of 20 Islanders who have struggled with substance use, work in the recovery field or, in many cases, both. The film also looks at how the Island’s double identity as a quiet winter community and bustling summer destination has perpetuated the problem.

Island's dual personality as a bustling summer community and quiet winter small town is highlighted. — Courtesy Public Goods Projects

“We were looking for everyday people, in their own words, to share their story,” said Mr. Kane in a recent interview with the Gazette.

Work on the film began in November of 2019, when Mr. Kane came to the Island to meet with representatives from the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition, Community Services and Island Health Care. In 2020, Mr. Kane returned to the Island twice to film, first in February and then just after Labor Day.

During the process, Mr. Kane, his cinematographer Trevor May, and their small team interviewed almost 50 Islanders from all corners of the community and met even more along the way. The film focuses on these stories, but data collected in a survey this fall about addiction perceptions on the Island also helped frame the narrative, Mr. Kane said.

“We asked questions about people’s lived experiences with addiction, really highlighting recovery...and a lot of unheard voices,” said Mr. Kane. “As filmmakers, we can contribute the most, I think, by showing people that are recovering in a positive light.”

Familiar faces sharing their stories include fisherman and author Janet Messineo, photographer Michael Blanchard and owner of the Ritz, Larkin Stallings. Island landmarks shot in rich hues also take on roles, from Lucy Vincent Beach to sunsets over the Vineyard Haven Harbor.

“We spent just as much time getting to know all the nooks and crannies of the Island as we did the community,” said Mr. Kane. “Being on Island, there’s something to it. So it was important that that was represented within the film.”

Beyond individual stories, the film also investigates the impact of the coronavirus on the issue, highlighting those who have relapsed since the pandemic began.

The film is Mr. Kane’s second with the Public Good Project and in his opinion has the potential to affect real change.

“The medium lends itself well to communicating lived experiences, sharing vulnerability in a really intimate way and sparking conversations. That’s what we’re really hoping for,” he said.

Following the film’s release this week, public awareness work will continue locally with the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition. A fundraising campaign has been launched in tandem with the film, Mr. Kane said.

“It was a wonderful, really life changing experience to spend that much time with such a special community,” he said. “For me, the most important thing is that people that are living with this disease are looked at in a more favorable and empathetic light.”

The film opens to general audiences everywhere on Feb. 12, available to stream for free at onislandmv.org. Donations can be also be made at the website.