July’s Side Street Films releases take us from Santiago, Chile to the Mississippi Gulf coast in the US. Colonia is a drama telling the story behind a little-known torture camp for political prisoners during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial reign of Chile during the 1970s, while Precious Cargo is an action heist movie with a smidgen of comedy co-starring Bruce Willis.
In 1961, German lay preacher Paul Schäfer founded a cult commune called Colonia Dignidad. This was an isolated site, ostensibly a charitable organisation, situated 200 miles south of Santiago de Chile. Schäfer ruled over the camp and its inhabitants with a brutal and tight fist.
The role of the camp became even more sinister in 1973, as Schäfer opened the camp to Pinochet’s secret service who used the facilities to torture political prisoners, while procuring arms and chemical weapons for the dictator.
Using the camp as the background for a fictitious drama, the movie Colonia tells the story of Lena (Emma Watson) and Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), a young couple who become entangled in the Chilean military coup of 1973.
When Daniel is abducted by Pinochet’s secret police, Lena finds out he has been taken to the Colonia Dignidad. Desperate to find out more and with nowhere to turn to, Lena decides to join the cult in order to find him, learning first-hand of the horrors that go on inside, at the hands of the sadistic Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) and his followers.
German director Florian Gallenberger was a student when he first heard about the infamous place in Chile. While working on his film John Rane, Gallenberger read the autobiography of a former prisoner, a Colono. Coincidentally, sometime later, screenwriter Torsten Wenzel sent him his idea of using the Colonia as the backdrop for a film.
Gallenberger travelled to Chile and further researched the story, encountering many former members of the sect who opened up to him about their experiences there. “The more time I spent studying the historical facts and hearing people’s stories, the more I wanted to learn about Schäfer’s microcosm,” Gallenberger said, going on to explain that, “although our two main characters are fictitious, each detail of the film is historically confirmed, even some of the dialogue with Paul Schäfer is authentic”.
“The interesting dynamic is that we are all familiar with the conventional narrative, in which the woman plays the damsel in distress and the man plays the knight-in-shining-armour who comes to rescue her,” she adds. “In Colonia, the switch is that actually it’s Lena who goes and rescues her man. I thought that was really, really beautiful actually, and something we don’t see often in films.”
What we do see often in films is Bruce Willis in action mode and, in Precious Cargo, Willis stars as crime boss Eddie Filosa, who is in deadly pursuit of Karen Colson (Claire Forlani), who has double-crossed him.
Karen persuades her former lover and partner-in-crime Jack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) to join her in a dangerous armoured car heist, which she hopes would get Eddie off her back.
Set in the world of multi-million dollar heists and professional thieves, double-dealing and double-crosses, Precious Cargo is described by Gosselaar as “a good mix of comedy with an intense blend of action and drama happening behind that”.
“I always like to see an action film that has a comedic element and doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is that kind of movie where you can sit down for 90 minutes, eat popcorn, and enjoy the ride,” he adds.
Forlani assert that Karen Colson is probably one of the most fun roles she has ever played. “To play someone who really doesn’t care about anyone else is just tremendous fun,” she says.
“Karen’s funny, sharp, quick, manipulative, and deceptive. You fall in love with her and you hate her. You root for her and yet she’s always scheming. She’s sort of maddening in that way and I’ve just loved playing her.
As for the presence of screen action idol Willis, Precious Cargo’s writer / director Max Adams sums it up thus: “It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to collaborate with Bruce on this project. I’m a big fan of his work.
As a first time director never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined standing in front of him. He is Detective John McClane from Die Hard; he is The Last Boy Scout…”
Colonia and Precious Cargo are currently being screened at Eden Cinemas as part of Side Street Films.