This 6-part Netflix documentary series tells the rise of Paul Schäfer; from a poor German lay preacher to one of the most powerful men in Latin America. After 40 brutal years as leader of the sect Colonia Dignidad, he was finally taken down by a group of Chilean boys, who were members of his sect. It is the story of the German sect, Colonia Dignidad; told through the eyes of those who lived in it, who endured it, who fought it. The series is based on exclusive archive material shown here for the first time.
This unique documentary project started in 2016, when a truck full of photos, film reels, video, and audiotapes arrived at the house of Chilean film producer, Cristián Leighton. The secret, cinematic legacy of Colonia Dignidad had been buried for years on the orders of cult leader Paul Schäfer. Now the colony’s cameramen entrusted it to the film producers so that it would not be lost. From 1958 onwards, Paul Schäfer has had the development of his sect documented on film: The beginnings, after World War II in Germany, and the exodus to Chile, where Paul Schäfer pretended to found a true Christian community without money, envy, and private property; a paradise on earth, which became hell.
In an elaborate process lasting several years, the footage was restored and digitized in Germany and Chile. People and places were identified, dialogues were transcribed and translated.
In parallel, over 150 settlers, victims of torture, police officers, relatives of the disappeared, lawyers, and intelligence officers were interviewed to understand what had really happened on the colony’s grounds, which was secured by barbed wire and mines. Interviews with more than 30 German and Chilean protagonists form the backbone of the series. Many contemporary witnesses tell their stories for the first time in front of the camera, including people from the inner circle around Paul Schäfer.
In the colonists’ shocking life stories, a comprehensive picture unfolds of everyday life in the colony, of Schäfer’s sophisticated system of power and the political entanglements of Colonia Dignidad with the Chilean military dictatorship. General Pinochet and Paul Schäfer made a pact after the military coup in 1973. The shielded colony became a laboratory for human experiments, torture, and murder.
For the first time, the series uses never-before-seen footage to also tell the story of Chilean boys who were held captive by Schäfer and who succeeded in doing what neither the German nor the Chilean justice systems could do: they forced Paul Schäfer to flee in 1997 and freed the colonists from 40 years of slavery.
Bettina Offermann | firstname.lastname@example.org
A co-production by
LOOKSfilm, Netflix, WDR, SWR, ARTE, Canal 13, Surreal Films
Writer & Director
Wilfried Huismann, Annette Baumeister
Ministerio de las Culturas, las Artes y el Patrimonio de Chile, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg