Podesta Island

A ghost story about a phantom island.

Podesta Island is a tiny island supposedly glimpsed by a sailor in the 19th century off the coast of Chile. Its existence has been in contention ever since. Chile claims it as its territory as an expedient way of extending their waters for economic reasons. It’s on Chilean maps. But it has never been found or even photographed.

The filmmaker uses a documentary style to convey both historical truth, popular rumour, and a fictional drama about castaways on the island. The effect is spooky. Among the bits of folklore about Podesta, the director weaves a story of three people lost at sea. The missing who have an unknown existence end up on an island with an unknown existence. This liminal state between living and dead, between real and unreal.

The film is about our constructions of fact and fiction, our separations into legitimate and illegitimate narratives of reality. The Chilean state’s recognition of an unevidenced island because it is useful to them, is emblematic of our post-truth times, where reality is whatever the government says it is. Equally the fictional story of those missing at sea reflects back on the true story of the Chilean state’s disappearance of hundreds of people under Pinochet. Many of those who were detained and tortured, were tied to railroad sleepers and dumped out of helicopters into the ocean. Their remains were never found. All those real people in the sea that the government denied the existence of, while recognising the existence of an unreal island.

The film ends on a retelling of a Slavic myth about an island which can appear and disappear at will. Those who find it are said to be granted all they desire. For those without conclusions, it seems a happy fate.