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In an attempt to live a simpler life, Dutch couple Martin Verfondem and Margo Pool settle down in Santoalla, a tiny village in northern Spain. Then, one fateful night, after years of turmoil with the town’s one remaining family, Martin Verfondern disappears. In their documentary, Santoalla, Brooklyn-based filmmakers Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer explore Martin’s disappearance and Margo’s search for answers.

After watching this absorbing feature, MoviePass blog writer Eli Sentman, sat down with the filmmakers to dig deeper into the story and their process.

Eli Sentman (MoviePass): You’re both Brooklyn-based. How did you come across this story about a remote village in Spain?

Daniel Mehrer: Martin and Margo were taking volunteers on their farm. My brother happened to be a volunteer, and he happened to arrive the same day that Martin disappeared. So he was there for ten days of the initial investigation into the disappearance.

ES (MP): That’s crazy!

DM: It was terrifying for him, for sure.

ES (MP): So at that point did he tell you that you should come film what was going on?

DM: I think at that point he was just concerned with getting out of there and going to the next destination! But when he came back he relayed what was going on. He told the little bits he got from Margo and described to us the setting and showed us some pictures. But we assumed the whole thing would be figured out or solved. We talked about how it would be a great idea for maybe a narrative or fictional movie. It wasn’t for another year or two of us talking about it and checking in on what was going on that we realized Martin was never found. That’s when Andrew and I started talking about the idea of this woman, Margo, staying there despite the fact that her husband disappeared and she had these suspicions about the neighbors. And that was really the beginning of the story for us.

Andrew Becker (AB): And I have to say, I think the impetus for us wasn’t so much that Martin disappeared; it was that Margo actually stayed there living next door to the family that she assumed had killer her husband. That was a much more interesting story to us than just simply a disappearance story.

ES (MP): And how much time did you guys end up spending out there in that remote area of Spain?

AB: We went back several times, but if you total it all up, it was probably a few months. The first time we were there was probably about two weeks.

DM: I’d say collectively we were there for three to four months.

ES (MP): Was it difficult shooting somewhere as remote as Santoalla?

DM: Yes! But not as difficult as you’d imagine. Margo had a little bit of electricity. But there’s obviously people who go into much more extreme situations to shoot documentaries! At the same time, it was very remote. We were sleeping in two little camper vans that Margo had on her property that didn’t have electricity. There’s no real bathroom facilities up there.

AB: And with that said, to speak to Daniel’s point, we don’t want to denigrate anybody else making much more difficult documentaries! This was just slightly uncomfortable.

ES: As far as difficulties though, were you meeting any resistance from the other family in the village?

AB: They were pretty open to participating. Honestly, they didn’t give us any pushback at all. There were times when we’d go to their house with our translator and producer Christina de la Torre—who was really helpful—and we’d ask them if we could hang out and shoot. And sometimes they’d say ‘no’ and other times they’d be like “yeah, let’s go!” I’d say overall they were surprisingly open to the experience.

Martin Verfondem and Margo Pool

ES (MP): When you were talking to them, was it ever at the back of your mind that you might’ve been talking to an actual killer?

DM: Absolutely.

AB: Yeah, that was interesting. I would say the first interview we did with Julio was strange in that we’d been trying to get him on camera for a while—not that he was dodging us— and he just kind of showed up and was like “okay, I’m ready to do this interview.” And while we shot the interview it was raining and the whole thing was sort of just weird; there was a very weird vibe to it. There was just something about that interview where we were both thinking, “maybe this is the guy!” That’s always at the back of your mind.

DM: And there were times when we’d just get into his truck and we’d drive up into the mountains—just us and our producer Christina—and we’re just driving with him alone while it’s getting dark. It starts getting into your head: “what are we doing up here with this man?”

ES (MP): It sounds like that part was probably worse than the lack of electricity and bathrooms – the fact that you might be within a few feet of a murderer.

AB: It was consistently unsettling because we had a pretty good idea as to what had probably happened. And you don’t really necessarily know what anybody is capable of either. There was an unsettling vibe for the first couple times we were there, for sure.

ES (MP): There were a lot of Margo and Martin’s home videos used in the movie. How much footage did she give you to go through?

DM: We actually used a lot of what Margo had. It wasn’t something we were aware of until the first shoot that she had all that footage that Martin shot. Martin took lots of pictures, so we went through thousands of slides. Margo had a little projector set up so we were able to go through them while we were up there. It was stuff that we didn’t know going into it that she had, but it eventually become super helpful. It wasn’t all that much that she had, but the small amount she did have was great – it helped give Martin’s vantage point and make him a character.

ES (MP): Andrew, you did the score for the movie. Can you talk about that process a little more?

AB: I basically sequestered myself in Daniel’s family’s farmhouse in upstate New York for about a month. I had to write 29 cues, so I was basically trying to write a cue a day. It was essentially me waking up in the morning, verbally abusing myself for about an hour, and then finding something that worked and following that idea. So that was basically it. I sat in a room for a month, yelled at myself, and then finished it!

ES (MP): You guys raised funds for Santoalla on KickStarter – can you talk about a little more about how that process worked?

DM: Well, we didn’t really have any funding going into it. We just took out a credit card, grabbed some cameras, and went. And at a certain point, we just ran out of money. It ended up being a lot of friends and family who contributed and passed it along, but it really allowed us to keep moving along at a point when we’d financially hit a dead-end. We needed some help to get over that hump, and then the ball started rolling from there.

ES (MP): And finally, are you guys relieved to finally have your movie out in the world?

AB: F*ck yeah!

DM: Absolutely!

ES (MP): I love to ask documentary filmmakers that question because the answer is always so enthusiastic!

DM: Yeah, it’s such an intensive process. It was four years of our lives! And every time you think it’s over, it never is. There’s always something lingering and preventing you from moving on to the next thing. We’re excited to be over that hurdle, and more than anything we’re just excited that people are going to be able to see it.

AB: It’s our first feature-film and, I wouldn’t say we were totally unaware, but we just didn’t realize how long these things take. Completing the film is one thing, but then there’s the application process, the festival process, finding distributors, and things like that. And you’re lucky to even get to that point; we’re grateful to have gotten to that point. It’s definitely something where you don’t foresee how long the process really is!

Interview courtesy of Oscilloscope. Santoalla hits theaters, July 19th. Click here for the trailer and screenings. 

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