Based on true events, “Dignity,” a Chile-Germany co-production from co-creators Maria Elena Wood and Patricio Pereira, head writer-producer Andreas Gutzeit and director Julio Jorquera, has been a hit since its launch as the first original series from German digital platform Joyn, a streaming service run jointly by Discovery and German media giant ProSiebenSat.
The series is slated to launch on Mega, a co-commissioner along with Joyn, in Chile later this year. Distributor Red Arrow Studios International is currently in discussions with other broadcasters internationally.
Co-produced by Chile’s Invercine & Wood and international production company Story House Productions, the multi-timeline series takes place in a post-WWII German cult in Chile, headed by the harrowing Paul Schaefer, a former Nazi soldier who fled to rural Chile after the war.
There, he established the German-speaking Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony) and reigned over a generations-long culture of torture, child abuse and murder, all under the protection of Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The community flourished under Schaefer’s leadership and became an indispensable to the local natives, providing schooling and medical services in an area where there would otherwise be none.
Decades later, under a new federal government, fictional Spanish-German bi-lingual prosecutor Leo Ramírez is sent to the colony, tasked with bringing Schaefer out of hiding and into custody. Unbeknownst to those around him, Leo has a history with the cult. When they were children, Leo’s younger brother Pedro died at the colony under suspicious circumstances, and it was Schaefer who sent Leo to Germany to be educated, explaining his German fluency. Facing long-buried demons, Leo is determined to bring down the colony until a young man claiming to be Pedro appears, throwing everything he thinks he knows into question.
Story House producer and series head writer Andreas Gutzeit discussed the series, its production and its impact with Variety ahead of NATPE Miami, which begins Tuesday, Jan. 21.
This is based on a true and very recent story that I’m sure still impacts the region today. What kinds of special concerns did you take when portraying such a hot-button issue that affects and entire community?
We were well aware of the fact that many victims of the torturous system that was Colonia Dignidad are still alive and are still not compensated or even fully recognized until this day. It has been on our mind throughout the entire production. With the series we hope the plight of the victims, both German and Chilean, will be remembered and addressed appropriately.
How do you determine which truths you want to tell in the series? It appears there must be conflicting stories about what happened, and I wonder what kind of research was done to assure your story was accurate.
We had both German and Chilean writing teams working on “Dignity” who brought different sensibilities to the series. That was key. Of course, the entire team was well versed in the subject matter, which still is very much under historical investigation in both countries. We did not want to recount the history of Colonia Dignidad, we set out to create a powerful thriller with a deeply affected family at its core. The story of Leo and Pedro, two fictional characters that are based on several real but composite characters, is the story we tell.
Were there times when you had to take creative liberties to make something more viable for TV?
No, the real stories were much more dramatic and devastating. We didn’t need to invent any of the horrors that took place there. Of course, the characters are all fictional, but in our series they live through the system that was the Colonia, just like the real victims did.
Did you film in the locations that these events took place?
We filmed all scenes taking place inside the compound in the actual locations in Colonia. This was quite remarkable, especially for the actors. The experience for them was very intense.
Does the story wrap up at the end of S1 or is there a possibility to continue?
A second season is currently being written. We hope that we can put together Season 2 very soon.
Can you talk about how production was handled from 13,000km apart?
We trusted that our director Julio shared our creative vision and was ably supported by his production team. We are very happy that this trust was rewarded.
How has the series been received in Germany? Are launch dates set for other territories soon?
The series was received spectacularly well in Germany. The press feedback from all the major newspapers was fantastic. Many outlets called it one of the best German series of the year.