People are fascinated by islands, as world’s apart from the ordinary, where people can escape from others, or imagine a different world. This attraction has long drawn people to some of the most unlikely islands imaginable, including Floreana island in the Galápagos. Although small, off major shipping lanes, and plagued by periodic drought, Floreana island appeared attractive to those Germans in the 1930s who were looking for an escape from their society. Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s video uses letters, home movies, and oral history to recreate the story of three groups of Germans that came to populate the island.
What makes the video engaging are the characters at its core: Dr. Friedrich Ritter, a devotee of Nietzsche, who was devastated when another family came to the island. Dora Strauch, a woman who left her husband for Dr. Ritter, and went to this remote island despite suffering from multiple sclerosis. The Wittmer family arrived next. Margret Wittmer had been willing to come in part because Dr. Ritter was on the island, and she hoped that he would assist during her pregnancy and birth. But Ritter was furious at what he perceived as an imposition, and refused to return to practicing medicine. But when the moment of crisis came, he had to make a choice. Lastly a European baroness -or so she claimed- arrived with her two lovers, and plans to build a luxury hotel on the island. But she had a violent streak, and not everything was what is seemed. Without revealing too much of what took place, the story reads like a parable about human nature. Some of the main characters disappeared, others died tragically, and there may have been more than one murder. There were also at least two versions for every event that took place.
Geller and Goldfine’s video is a masterpiece of historical documentary. The integration of text and video brings these strange characters to life. Notwithstanding the discovery of lost footage, the oral interviews are perhaps the most powerful part of the entire documentary. The video is engrossing, and at times reminds one of a Sophoclean tragedy. I strongly recommend this work for people interested in history, the Galápagos, or mysteries.
Would you like to read about another maritime mystery? Please read my post about the ghost ship called the Baltimore.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University