In the summer of 1998, filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller were hired for a two-week shoot in the Galapagos Islands where they learned of extraordinary events that took place nearly 70 years prior. Partly inspired by The Curse of the Giant Tortoise—Octavio Latorre’s book recounting the human history of Galapagos—they were led on a 15-year journey resulting in The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Eden. This documentary film recounts the tale of a bizarre 1930s murder-mystery on Floreana Island replete with original home movies, testimonies from islanders, and voice performances that include actress Cate Blanchett. The Galapagos Affair explores the pursuit of paradise at a time when Galapagos was sparsely inhabited and rarely visited—and reveals how quickly the utopian dream can fall apart.
GC recently caught up with filmmakers (and GC supporters!) Dayna and Dan to talk about the film before its release in April 2014.
How did your first trip to Galapagos impact your desire to make this film?
Before our 1998 trip, neither Dan nor I had spent much time thinking about the Galapagos other than reading about Darwin in school. Neither of us was prepared for how profoundly we were going to be affected by the Islands almost from the moment we first set foot on them. It was immediately clear how special these islands are, and we knew that our relationship to them would somehow continue beyond that initial two-week trip—though we didn’t know the form of that involvement, nor how extensive our interaction with Galapagos would come to be.
How important is the Galapagos tortoise to the story?
Octavio Latorre’s book, The Curse of the Giant Tortoise, was one of the first books we read after our initial trip, and his metaphor of the tortoise resonated deeply.* It’s hard to imagine anyone not being impressed by the beauty of these creatures after being in their presence for any length of time. Their gaze is a deep and intense one, and it just made sense that the tortoise would be a recurring theme in the film—they were there before humans arrived, and almost seem to be judging us as to whether we will respect the special majesty of the islands. It is wonderful notion that people will come and go, but tortoises have seen it all and hopefully will continue to remain to see what happens next. There is nothing quite as magical as looking down the camera lens into those ancient eyes. We also love that it adds a bit of magical realism to the story.
*The Curse of the Giant Tortoise recounts a legend that tortoises can perceive the motives of visitors through their deep gaze — which has often witnessed at least a century — and will either mark the approval of the visitor, or the announcement of their death.
What was the biggest challenge in making the story come to life?
It’s such a complicated story with so many characters, so it was a big structural challenge that involved a lot of trial-and-error and almost two years in the editing room. We wanted audiences to understand the many different motivations that people have for coming to Galapagos, and to do that we knew we had to include many voices and perspectives—important to what we wanted to achieve with the film, but not a task for the faint of heart. Also, it was very hard to find the right balance between the Floreana story told with the archival footage and the voices of the Santa Cruz settlers, whose stories amplify and exemplify the themes and issues that make up the 1930s murder-mystery.
What was one of your favorite tortoise moments while filming in Galapagos?
Any time spent hanging with the tortoises on Steve Divine’s Rancho Mariposa in the Santa Cruz highlands would count as one of our life highlights! (Steve Divine appears in the film.)
What do you want people to take away from the film?
In many ways, The Galapagos Affair is a meditation on paradise and humanity’s perpetual search for whatever “paradise” might be. Friedel Horneman, who was born in the Santa Cruz highlands in 1940, says towards the end of the film: “Paradise is not a place, it’s a condition.” Part of what’s so deep and profound about Galapagos is that it makes one ponder such concepts. We’re hoping that our film might give audiences at least a small sense of the wonder of these islands so that they can leave theaters engaged in that way.
The Galapagos Affair opens in New York on Friday, April 4, 2014, and its national theatrical release will follow soon after. View the complete list of playdates.
Let us know what you think – leave a comment below!