Martha’s Vineyard is the third-largest island on the east coast of the United States and the largest without a bridge attached to the mainland. Charles Frank’s documentary, Somewhere With No Bridges, explores the island and its inhabitants through the story of his late second cousin, Richie Madeiras, a fisherman who went missing in 1999. His body was found several days later. Frank’s earliest memory was learning about Richie’s death, an event that still haunts him. Running just under an hour, the documentary mixes interviews with those who knew Richie with commentary and footage of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a eulogy for Richie but also a very genuine piece about the island itself and how Frank came to view it when he decided to point a camera at his home.
About midway through, Frank admits in his voiceover narration that he hadn’t set out to tell Richie’s story when he decided to make a documentary about the island. I wish he hadn’t admitted this; saying “I had no plan” is a move many micro-budget documentaries make as a way of, I think, saving some amount of narrative face. Bridges, in examining Richie’s life and how it reflects Frank’s feelings on his home, has a strong-enough central narrative that there’s no reason to say it was discovered by accident. All movies are part accident, part luck and part skill anyway.
As I said: This is a eulogy, and one about an everyman who lived in an outwardly mundane place. He’s important because of the people who love him and he’s remembered because of Frank’s interest in his life. Documentaries often focus on the larger ideas, the big story. This one doesn’t. It’s all the better for it. I found it a captivating portrait of a normal person, whose tragic death was in itself simply an accident in the course of everyday events. The ripples of his loss continue to be felt two decades later.
2020 was a year full of mundane tragedies made sharper by the shared awfulness of everyone’s collective reality, and it’s hard to imagine what some aspects of life will look like afterward. Bridges uses a family tragedy to tell a story about closeness and grief in a very grounded and human way. Everyone has spent a lot of time in their hometowns lately and seen them in new lights. We’ve spoken to our families differently and reassessed what we value in our connections with others. Bridges lacks cynicism or self-interest in its perspective, only a sense of thoughtful discovery and empathy for an everyday loss. I found it very effective in this moment.