Charly and Eriel Santagdo’s Soldier Island -- a dance adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None -- screens at the Fall 2022 New Jersey Film Festival on September 23. Here is my interview with Charly Santagdo:
Nigrin: Why did you make Soldier Island?
Santagado: We made Soldier Island out of a burning desire to create art together in the face of the isolation caused by the pandemic. We were itching to create in a new way, a way that captured the strangeness of the times, but still enabled us to connect with other artists.
Nigrin: Why did you adapt Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in your film as a dance?
Santagado: We have been exploring the relationship between text and movement for a few years now and translating an entire novel felt like a logical next step after having translated several poems and prose excerpts. We chose Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None because we were originally planning to make a live virtual Zoom performance where each dancer performed from their own home. With this constraint in mind, we searched for a narrative that took place in a house and eventually landed on And Then There Were None, a novel I’ve loved since I was a teenager.
Nigrin: What was it like shooting in the 18th-century Drake House in Plainfield, New Jersey?
Santagado: While we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to shoot at the Drake House, the filming process was not without its difficulties. First we had to rearrange the house substantially, moving delicate antique items into a storage space upstairs and ensuring that anything fragile was put in a safe place. Because we filmed each dancer separately, we had to painstakingly make sure that things were put back in the exact same place each day of filming to preserve continuity. Finally, we were operating under a significant time crunch so many scenes we only got to shoot once or twice before we needed to move on. Despite these challenges, filming in the Drake House was an incredible experience and our film literally could not have existed without the generosity of Nancy Piwowar who is the President of the Historical Society of Plainfield. She stayed with us at the house for extremely long hours so that we could shoot everything we needed on a given day, and expressed constant enthusiasm about our artistic process. It was fascinating to inhabit a home that people like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton once occupied, and the aura of history was palpable throughout the filming process.
Nigrin: Was it difficult making your film during the pandemic?
Santagado: Making our film during the pandemic was certainly challenging. We rehearsed primarily over Zoom, which posed its own complications (glitches, having to reverse movement because of screen mirroring, unwanted distractions, etc.) Some of the dancers in our film never even met in person. We also had to adjust from our original plan of a Zoom performance to a prerecorded film. The dancers’ initial contracts had no in person component, but because we were dissatisfied with the capabilities of Zoom and other similar platforms, we changed our plans and decided to create a film, which meant that the dancers had to show up in person to be recorded. One of our dancers, for example, lives in Los Angeles and we had to fly her in for a few days to shoot her parts.
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?
Santagado: The whole process is something I will never forget. In order to get all the shots we wanted, we had to plan things down to the minute and I still can’t believe we were able to stick to our incredibly tight schedule and ultimately complete the film, especially on such a small budget. One memorable moment was the day we got about half the dancers together at the beach and got to shoot as a group. It was beautiful to see so many people together after having been separated by many miles and only interacting via screens for so long. Shooting the scene where Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are seen through the window also stands out. I remember we were so pleased with ourselves for coming up with that shot and it’s still one of my favorite shots in the film.
Soldier Island screens at the Fall 2022 New Jersey Film Festival with Howl and Cabeco on Friday, September 23rd. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Charly and Eriel Santagado will be present at the In-Person screening to do a Q+A after the showing.
To buy tickets go here: https://watch.eventive.org/newjerseyfilmfestivalfall2022/play/62b9b969c9fa4e00b10792eb/62ac9277307521003e008695
For General Info on the Film Festival go here: https://watch.eventive.org/newjerseyfilmfestivalfall2022