A haunting true-crime mystery in the misty Galician hills

Santoalla The crumbling village of Santoalla in the misty Galician hills provides the unlikely setting for this haunting true-crime mystery. Progressive Dutch couple Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool moved to Santoalla in search of a simple life away from the city, but their dream to live off the land instead ignited a decade-long conflict with their rural neighbours. These tensions eventually culminated in a shocking crime which would take years to solve.

'An engrossingly atmospheric true-crime tale of village strife' - Hollywood Reporter

Our Spanish-speaking customers can watch Santoalla on Vimeo or Amazon Prime Video.

On a wet January morning, Martin left his home between 9 and 10 AM and drove to a nearby town to pick up supplies. A woman would later report seeing him making his way back along the rocky mountain roads to Santoalla. Margo never saw him again. The police found no sign of his body or his vehicle. Did his car tumble down into the valley? Did he simply abandon his wife? Alone and bewildered, holed up in her isolated home, Margo is not convinced. "It must have been something else."

"The first few years we were very, very happy", Margo beams, her eyes lightening with the fond memories. The couple tended their crops, raised animals, and immersed themselves in the simplicity of a rustic life off the grid. Bit by bit they built a home that was natural and sustainable: "we were realising our dream".

However, Martin's ambitions for development set him on a collision course with Manolo, the old patriarch living next door, who had dominated Santaolla for decades. Martin's vision of reinvigorating the village through tourism was at odds with Manolo's stoic resistance to change and his drive to rule over a decaying village he saw as rightfully his. Martin complains to a local news crew that "the old man here thinks he's the sun king of the village…he's the mayor of nothing."

Tensions escalated when Martin sued the family in order to attain 'common land rights'. If successful, Martin would be entitled to a share of the money paid to the town by lumber companies to fund development projects, wresting power and money away from Manolo. Two months later, Martin disappeared.

For years Margo has lived alone, her only company a local carpenter and the TV crews and journalists that periodically descend on the sleepy village in search of a scoop. Bereft of a husband and an explanation, she is left with only a mystery and a broken dream. "I can live with death…it's hard to live with a question." It is only long after the press have lost interest that her questions are unexpectedly answered, and the shocking truth is finally revealed.

The Producers

Andrew Becker is a director, producer, cinematographer, editor and composer residing in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2008, he has worked primarily in television, creating content for cable outlets such as Discovery, Travel Channel and A&E.

Becker also records music under the name, “Human Potential”, and has released two solo albums on his label, What Delicate Recordings.

Daniel Mehrer is a Brooklyn, New York based director, producer, cinematographer and photographer. He has produced both long and short form content for various cable outlets such as Discovery, OWN and MSNBC.

SANTOALLA is Andrew and Daniel's directorial debut.

Making The Film

When we set out to make this film, we were initially intrigued by the bizarre circumstances surrounding Martin Verfondern’s disappearance, as well as the decision made by his wife, Margo, to continue living in a nearly abandoned village with the family that she believed was responsible. In our minds, SANTOALLA existed simply as a crime story. However, after living in the village for months at a time, we uncovered the roots of the dispute that existed between the two families. While the Rodriguez family revered the pueblo as a place that preserved centuries-old customs and traditions, Martin and Margo envisioned their adopted home as a location to build their own utopia and foster their progressive ideals. Despite their mutual love for the village, neither side accepted the other’s concept of what Santoalla should be. That’s when we knew that the film was about more than just a disappearance. The catalyst that sets the film in motion is as old as time—leaving one's home to find a better life in a foreign land. Through Margo’s journey, the film considers the importance of understanding and tolerance in an increasingly borderless world, and examines the very essence of the word, "home".

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