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Based on true events The Colony is a must see film for 2016. Emotional and gripping, the thriller follows a young woman’s (Emma Watson) desperate search for her abducted boyfriend that draws her into the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a sect nobody has ever escaped from.
How did the film come about?
I was aware of the story of the Colonia since I was a kid and about 7 or 8 years ago I read about it in the newspaper and was reminded of it. I started to go online and do some research and I found out the story was much bigger than I ever knew because as a kid I didn’t know about the political involvement of Pinochet and the background of it.
Does the colony still exist?
Yes, it is a private property. Paul Schafer sold everything in Germany and bought 30,000 acres of land in Chile in 1961. He led the cult and he was developing his system of abuse until 1998. In 98 he was hiding on the compound from the police. He escaped to Argentina and discovered by a TV reporter and was finally put into jail in 2005. And he later died in prison. At its peak The Colonia had about 350 members. It still exists because simply some of the people still live there. The founding generation who are there are about 90 years old and I don’t think they can live anywhere else because they have been living in that system for 40 years and I don’t see them living in a normal society. The younger ones mostly have left and now there’s 180 people still living there. Strangely, they are now trying to survive by tourism, they have a hotel in place of the main building on the compound and a restaurant exists where the women used to be beaten.
Were you allowed to film in The Colony?
No I’ve been going back and forth for four years. A small group of younger ones supported the movie. We had one of them on our shoot as our expert, so that we got things right on set. A lot of them didn’t want the movie to happen because they’re still trying to cover it up and ignore it. It took about three years of building up trust with some of the younger ones to get their support. They were born into the compound and some had never left. They just existed within this enclosed world of Paul Schafer. It is really difficult for the older ones because if they condemn Schafer, they are condemning their entire life. They dedicated everything to that man. They acknowledge that he made mistakes but it’s the first duty of Christianity to forgive so they needed to forgive him. They believe he was truly a man of God. Which is shocking after what happened there.
Richenda, how did you channel the part?
Well, nobody gets to be that horrible unless they are devoid of love. Brutality and hardship are what they are used to and that is then how they deal with life. And I think it’s as simple as that. When there’s no love, you’ve got no love to give.
Was it a difficult film to shoot?
Yes, for many reasons, for finance for instance, we originally wanted to make the film in German because they are all German but we couldn’t raise enough money from Germany for a film of that size, so the choice was to forget about the film or do it in the English language. When Emma Watson took on the part it changed the project into a different film. For finance reasons we shot the film in Luxembourg and half of it in Munich and one day in Berlin and the rest in Argentina. It’s a lot of pressure to recreate South America in Luxembourg.
What was the role of the embassy?
They were shockingly supportive of the Colony. The compound was fenced in with an electrical fence, watchtowers and things it was very dangerous to try to get out. Some made it out. They had to go to the embassy because their passports were kept by the Colony. For more then 25 years the embassy sent the escapees back to the compound. The first escapee in 1966 and then two escaped in 1968 and hid in the Canadian embassy. They gave a long testimony of what was happening there so they couldn’t be sent back. In 1976 photos from inside were published in a German magazine, it caused a scandal then the German ambassador was sent to check it out. He gave a press conference after and denied the allegations of abuse and even went as far as praising Schafer. In 1985 he landed a helicopter into the compound and was shot at. So German authorities said they were not going to anything else about what was happening there. Upon seeing the movie the German authorities said they needed to look at their own history and we have made mistakes. It turns out they knew what was happening there all along.
Richenda, how did the character play on your conscience?
It wasn’t very confortable. You have to put yourself in a place of a person who didn’t know about love. It was difficult playing somebody that cold and loveless but that’s the game and that’s what we do. Michael who played (Schafer) found it unbearably hard – it was a horrible journey for him.
Florian: I remember you suffered Richenda, when you had to beat Emma’s character and you found that strange, but she had a protective cover on and you looked at me as if to say you couldn’t do that.
Richenda: Emma being a third of my age and half of my size, on the first day of shooting I was given a rolled up piece of hosepipe and told to whip Emma, one of the world’s most popular actresses and I said, “yeah but I don’t really, do I.” and Florian said, “yes you do.” I felt terrible.
Florian: That makes me look really bad now haha.
How do you think Emma’s fans are going to react seeing her in a different role?
A lot of people reacted to seeing her kissing Daniel and were wishing they were him. She wanted to show she could play the part of a woman and not just a teenage girl and she cared a lot about the fact it’s the girl who saves the boy and it’s the girl who puts herself in danger to rescue him and not the other way round as it would normally be. She really cared about that and it goes hand in hand with her work on female empowerment.
Do you feel it is your duty as a director to tell these stories?
In a way yes, because the young ones had no one to talk to about what had happened. One of them said seeing it on the screen was like a cleansing process, although it was painful to relive what he had gone through. He was able to distance himself from his reality. I started to care for them and it liberated them.
Was it difficult to recreate the Colony?
A lot of research went into it and it was dialogue with true history so that was difficult.
*I give this film five stars.