Filmmakers Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cociña turn Chile’s darkest hour into a stop-motion fairy tale by Kimberly Bradley

Filmmakers Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cociña turn Chile’s darkest hour into a stop-motion fairy tale

Kimberly Bradley
Inspired by the brutal history of Colonia Dignidad, the film is a must-see at Art Basel Miami Beach

The plot seems like something from a Grim(m) fairy tale, but The Wolf House is rooted in a real-life story: Colonia Dignidad was a German colony south of Santiago de Chile, founded in 1961 by lay pastor Paul Schäfer. Like many postwar émigrés in South America, Schäfer had National Socialist ties. Colonia Dignidad ran for decades as an agricultural and religious commune; residents, however, lived in a secret dystopia of barbed-wire fences, searchlights, hard labor, and no way out. When the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet took power in the 1970s, his government used the enclave as an undercover center for arms production, torture, money laundering, and pedophilic sexual abuse. The Colonia thus gained tremendous political power. Only five people ever escaped. In the late 1980s, reports of abuse began leaking; Schäfer went underground in the mid-1990s, was later jailed, and died in 2010. 

The film took five years to make and involved a clever production strategy. ‘We’re visual artists,’ says Leon, ‘so when we started the film, we were confronted with locking ourselves into a studio for years and not making exhibitions.’ The two came up with the idea of creating the film publicly and nomadically. Twelve exhibitions took place, mostly throughout Santiago, with the artists and their team using each space as an open studio, which in part explains the animated house’s ever-changing interiors. The film grew organically as each scene – 12 frames per second, with one planned drawing per scene – emerged. ‘We feel we need to rethink the way we use art spaces in our country,’ says Cociña, who says that many of the materials in the film were found in the institutions they worked in. (Other materials came from flea markets: Leon frequently scours them wherever he’s working to see what he might find.)