Film & TV

‘Santoalla’ Documentary Explores Familial Tension and Murder in Abandoned Spanish Village

Film & TV

‘Santoalla’ Documentary Explores Familial Tension and Murder in Abandoned Spanish Village

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Earlier this summer we were taken with the unsettling contours and narratively imaginative story telling of Brooklyn group HUman Potential’s,“To Effectively Mirror Saturn”, so when the outfit’s Andrew Becker told us about a film he’s working on, it piqued our interest. “Santoalla”, a documentary, which he is co-directing, shooting and scoring explores the dynamic between two very different families living in an abandoned town in Spain.

We asked him to explain more.

What’s the film about in a nutshell?

The film centers around a nearly abandoned village in Northwestern Spain called, Santoalla and the mysterious disappearance of one of its residents. For the past 17 years, Santoalla has been inhabited by only two families; the Rodriguez family, who have spent their entire lives in the village; and Dutch immigrants, Margo Pool and Martin Verfondern, a progressive couple who moved there to start an organic farm. From the beginning, the two families were at odds, mainly owing to ideological and cultural disparities…and eventually a land dispute. They were basically like the Hatfields and McCoys of Spain. Then, in 2010, Martin Verfondern vanished while driving back to Santoalla from a nearby town. His widow, Margo, continues to live in the village despite her suspicion that her neighbors killed her husband.

Where did you come across the story, and what drew you into it?

My co-director and I first heard about the story in 2010, when a friend of mine traveled to Santoalla to work on Martin and Margo’s farm. He ended up arriving the day after Martin disappeared and immediately began relaying the events as they unfolded. His dispatches from the village during the search for Martin as well as his photographs portraying the crumbling beauty of the village were intriguing to say the least. My friend and I had been working in television production for years and were always talking about embarking on our own project. This seemed to be it. So, we decided to go there ourselves and meet the people who lived there. We wanted to understand why they remained in this desolate, remote village, as well as explore the conflicts that made Santoalla such a notorious place. What we found was a tragic, compelling yet inspiring story that could be unique to the genre…almost an amalgam of ethnographic documentary and film noir.

What do you think viewers will find revealing about the world you’re inhabiting in the documentary?

The world we’re inhabiting is, at first glance, one of tragedy and loss…Martin Verfondern’s disappearance and Santoalla’s inevitable dissolution. But, our hope is that these dark elements will be transcended by revealing the motivations and decisions of our characters
in the face of unthinkable adversity and conflict. Ultimately, it’s a story about hope and empathy.

Was there an image or a scene that really sticks out to you as capturing what the piece is about?

Well, since we’re just heading into the editing phase, we’ve yet to really start cutting most of our scenes. There have certainly been things that we shot that felt particularly poignant in the moment, that we’re looking forward to exploring in the edit room. However, I think I’ll wait until the film is closer to completion before I’m able to discern it’s defining
moment.

To learn more, and to contribute to a Kickstarter to help fund the rest of the film project, go here.