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CPH:DOX 2020

Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga • Directors of Songs of Repression

“The repetition of trauma can lead back to repression and the return of fascist structures”


- We talked to Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga, the co-directors of Songs of Repression, which won the top prize at CPH:DOX

Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga  • Directors of Songs of Repression

We chatted to Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga about their joint effort Songs of Repression [+see also:
film review
interview: Estephan Wagner and Mariann…
film profile
, which won the top prize at the recent CPH:DOX (see the news).

Cineuropa: What is your connection to Villa Baviera, that is, Colonia Dignidad, and why did you decide to make a film about it?
Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga: Totalitarian regimes and their consequences have always been part of our lives. We both grew up directly exposed to Pinochet’s dictatorship – Estephan grew up in Chile during the military rule and Marianne in exile in Denmark with her Chilean mother. Even when we were small kids, we both knew about Colonia Dignidad. But we knew about it from two very different perspectives. Estephan would go with his family to the colony’s very German roadside restaurant when going on summer holidays in Southern Chile, while Marianne would hear her family whispering about the allegations that political prisoners under Pinochet’s dictatorship were tortured and killed there. Parts of Estephan’s family were involved in pro-colony lobbying against those allegations. Marianne’s family was on the opposite side.

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As we were growing up, more and more questions arose when we read and heard about Colonia Dignidad. We asked ourselves how it must have been for people to continue living in a place where a strong collective trauma dominates the psychological reality. How do the individual and the community deal with such suffering? And how does one learn to re-define truth, trust and love, when those concepts have lost all meaning?

We met and became a couple in our early thirties, while we were both studying filmmaking in London. At this time, of course, we both already knew that the world was not as black and white as what we had learned in our childhood. And we felt the urge to explore and gain a deeper understanding of how we end up becoming who we are and how societies end up the way they do. For us, Colonia Dignidad was an obvious place to examine.

Colonia Dignidad has a notorious history, but you handled the topic with great affection for the protagonists.
The right balance and tone were crucial for us from the very beginning. This demanded time and an honest, mutually trustworthy relationship. So, during the editing of the film, we chose to include the relationship between the participants and us as filmmakers. And we hope that it triggers a certain empathy for the participants among the audience. After all, each and every one of us could have been one of the inhabitants of the colony.

But, like in most post-fascist realities around the world, the general discourse surrounding this complex place is still stuck in black and white. There have been attempts to open up a discussion and a space for reconciliation in and around the colony. But in the media, we still see a simplified story of clear-cut victims and indisputable victimisers. However, the reality is that the victims and the victimisers are deeply entangled. Actually, most residents are both.

How did you approach the protagonists and work with them?
Throughout the three-and-a-half years of making the film, we became very close to the colony’s inhabitants. We encouraged them to tell their own stories in their own way. We aimed to understand their logic, and we learned that their dominant view on their own history was also black and white. And behind the attempt to create a paradise for themselves and for tourists, the people living there have very different strategies for dealing with their traumas: from staying silent about the past and choosing only to remember the bright moments, to a desire to open up while nevertheless struggling to vocalise their pain.

What is the public’s perception of Colonia Dignidad in Chilean society, and how do you think your film fits into it?
Chile is a country that is still very clearly divided between the left and the right wing. There is hardly any dialogue between the two political sides. The left looks at the inhabitants of the colony as people that you cannot have a dialogue with, while the right believes that the colony’s inhabitants are all merely victims of Paul Schäfer.

We hope that our film can add to a more nuanced view of the aftermath of Colonia Dignidad. But taking that even further, we hope that our feature can open up a discussion about what happens when traumas are not overcome, and the risk of them being repeated through the generations. We see that if there is no space for profound healing and reconciliation, the repetition of trauma can lead back to repression and the return of fascist structures. We believe that the film is of huge relevance for Chile today, but we also believe that it is imperative to shed light on the roots of such structures in general in these times when totalitarian regimes are again gaining strength on a global level.

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