Maria Elena Wood, Matias Cardone Talk New Chilean Series ‘Dignity’

CANNES —  If Germany’s ProSiebenSat1 and Discovery had launched Joyn, their new streaming service, 10 years ago, they might have chosen as their first production a big action series, set in Germany, but with U.S. stars.

This September, in a sign of new times, the partners announced that their first original drama series commission is “Dignity,” set in Chile, half spoken in Spanish.

In other ways too, “Dignity,” described as a major political thriller, is a change-maker. Produced by Chile’s Invercine & Wood (“Ramona,” “Mary & Mike”) and Germany’s Storyhouse Productions, it is also one of a first brace of international co-productions at Chile’s top network Mega, as it moves not upscale premium series.

Distributed by Red Arrow International, and created by Maria Elena Wood and Patricio Pereira, eight-part “Dignity,” also a wrenching family drama, is inspired by chilling true events.

It tells the story of two brothers who were separated by former Nazi Paul Schaefer, the leader of a sect of German settlers who reigned in southern Chile for almost half a century protected by Augusto Pinochet and politicians inChile’s conservative establishment.

In the series, attorney Leo Morales – a figure inspired by the real life Hernán Fernandez – is recruited to lead a dangerous investigation against Colonia Dignidad,  a torture center under Pinochet, and arrest Schaefer.

For the last decade, Chile’s cinema has punched far above its weight at festivals and in foreign markets winning an Oscar with “A Fantastic Woman.” Mipcom bows with news of further sales for the multi-laureled MipTV hit “Invisible Heroes,”a Finnish-Chilean co-production, and at least two significant new Chilean drama series being brought onto the market, Fabula-Fremantle’s “La Jauría,” showrun by Lucía Puenzo, and “Dignity.”

Chilean TV may well very soon be a byword, like its cinema, for sophisticated Latin America creativity. Variety talked to “Dignity’s” creator Wood and producer Matías Cardone on the eve of Mipcom:

This is Joyn’s first original series commission, and backed by Chile’s Mega, in a move into premium Chilean fiction…

María Elena Wood: MEGA have made several co-productions both in fiction and in international entertainment. Dignity is their first co-production with Germany and with an OTT. And as Juan Ignacio Vicente (Iñaki) has told us, they are very proud to participate in the project with Invercine&Wood and Joyn and are looking forward to future projects in this line. It’s part of  MEGA decided thrust towards internationalization. It would have been impossible to do this tv series without our partner in Germany Storyhouse Pictures and our partners in Chile, CNTV and Mega.

Matías Cardone: It’s also half in German, half in Spanish and Mega will be able to offer audiences something fully dubbed in Spanish, or in both languages, and subtitled as well. Its the near future.

“Ramona” and “Mary & Mike” are groundbreaking example of upscale TV which have won prizes or festival selection in Europe. How would you compare “Dignity” to them?

Wood: This series maintains the dramatic quality and the level of audiovisual quality we’ve always striven to achieve, historically. But it’s a far more ambitious series in terms of international projection. “Ramona” was designed for the Chilean market and audience, won awards in Europe. “Mary & Mike” was conceived for a Latin American market which was it was also acclaimed in Europe. “Dignity” is intended for the world market, for the European, Latin American and  Chilean market as well.

“Colonia Dignidad” brings to light the links between Nazi Germany and Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and through that aspects of human cruelty that are not specific to any time or place….

Cardone: One of our concerns as producers is to take this story around the world. There are people who escaped justice, are still alive, but have never been brought to justice…Thanks to a German co-producer’s determination and to Red Arrow’s distribution deal with Joyn, we hope certain things can happen, so that things like don’t happen again

Wood: Cruelty certainly isn’t something specific to a particular period of history or specific geographical place. We have to be constantly on the look-out for the signs, because if we don’t pay attention, we can fall back into the same thing. This story reminds us of this, raises our awareness and makes us think of how we must protect democracy and human rights.  There is no dignity without justice.

I believe the series was shot in the place the events took place…..

Cardone: Yes, part of the shooting was in Villa Baviera, where the events originally took place. This series aims to be fiction inspired on real events…but it goes to the original location, and it’s close to what the authentic reality was…when you see it on screen you’re going to see Paul Schaefer’s paintings, his table and room. It’s incredible…

CREDIT: Invercine & Wood

And discomfiting?

Cardone: Most certainly. I went to the shoot in Villa Baviera. Many people from that time still live there. There’s a hotel, a restaurant that’s still in business, a bakery, a dairy store; landing strips, lots of businesses that still function today. The German actors were nervous because they know the atrocities that had happened there  and they meet people  who’ve lived through that entire experience and they speak German,  so there was communication between the actors and the people who actually lived through that experience, which was extremely moving to witness. It’s like going to Auschwitz, and having people who lived through Auschwitz still there. For all of us it was very moving  to be in that place. And it wasn’t easy to work there. But it gave a powerful naturalism to the series, which was marvelous.

Andrés Wood broke through, gained fame, winning Sundance, making movies. That cinematographic approach to series was very clear in “Mary & Mike.“ If “Dignity” is naturalist, what kind of cinematographic style can it have? 

Wood: This series stands out for the quality of the actors performance, the art direction, the costume design and also for the naturalist photographic timbre in which it is lensed, aimed on the one hand at capturing that bright, translucent, pristine landscape of Southern Chile, and, on the other, those dark, perverse worlds that were there, so present within Colonia Dignidad, a contrast between not only the  beauty of the landscape, but also the clothes, of the men and the women, and the perversity of this hidden world…That cinematographic slant informs the entire series.

The series is created by you, María Elena, and Patricio Pereira. How did you develop the material?  

Wood: In all, it took three years of work on the writing, remarkable work from Chile’s Paula del Fierro and Enrique Videla, the writers who carried out this task, inspired by the efforts of Hernán Fernández, the lawyer who unceasingly pursued Paul Schaefer for ten years and did it all without the support of any official body or institution, and who finally succeeded in getting his arrest order with the help of a TV Chilean program and an investigation journalist, Carola Fuentes. The inspiration came from that man: David vs. Goliath.

 That must have caused you to seek some sort of a balance, between entertaining, create a thriller, but also addressing real events that you want to get across to  the public….

Wood: Here, the challenge was to be inspired by reality, by the characters and their stories, but to achieve the dramatization necessary. This is not a documentary. This is not the real story of Colonia Dignidad. Journalistic reporting and documentaries are there for that. This is fiction inspired in a given setting with the type of links that represents and the cruelty and values it brings to light – the real backdrop of Colonia Dignidad. But it’s fiction. That must never be forgotten.

Did the Chilean-German co-production present major challenges?

Cardone: Casting was an incredible task: finding actors who speak German and Spanish. There are probably 100 such actors in the world. And actors of the right age. Among them, we found the likes of Devid Strisow, Otto Götz, Jennifer Ulrich, Marcial Rodríguez, Nils Rovira-Muñoz, Martina Klier. And from the Chilean side Antonia Zegers and Julieta Figueroa, between many others.

The cultures are very different, the broadcasters, German television and Chilean television, work at a different pace. Everything had to be written in Spanish, English and German, which was extremely laborious.

At the outset, the screenwriting team was 100% Chilean. But when we started putting the co-production together, Andreas Gutzeit came on board as executive producer and head of the writing team; and Swantje Oppermann as well. So this story began as much more Chilean than German and ended up being half German, half Chilean, which was fantastic.

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