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Home > Screenings > LOOKSfilm > A Sinister Sect: Colonia Dignidad

Director: Wilfried Huismann, Annette Baumeister

Producer: Birgit Rasch

Executive Producer: Gunnar Dedio, Regina Bouchehri, Daniela Bunster

Writer: Wilfried Huismann, Annette Baumeister

Genres: Documentary, Factual


This 6-part Netflix-documentary series tells of the rise of the poor German lay preacher Paul Schäfer to one of the mightiest men in Latin America. After a 40-year brutal reign, he was finally defeated by a group of Chilean boys. It is also 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 truckload of photos, film reels, video and audiotapes arrived at Chilean film producer Cristián Leighton's house. 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, without 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 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 of 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.
From October 1, A SINSTER SECT: COLONIA DIGNIDAD can be seen worldwide on Netflix.

A Netflix Original Documentary Series
A LOOKSfilm-Production

Executive Producers:
Gunnar Dedio
Regina Bouchehri
Daniela Bunster

Creative Producer:
Birgit Rasch

A Series by:
Wilfried Huismann
Annette Baumeister

Claudia Nagel

Based on an Idea by:
Cristián Leighton

In Coproduction with:
Canal 13, WDR, SWR, ARTE, Surreal Films

Supported by:
Ministerio de las Culturas, las Artes y el Patrimonio de Chile
Creative Europe MEDIA Programm der Europäischen Union
Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg

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