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‘Wild Wild Country’: The true story of a cult, mass poisonings and assassination attempts

Bhagwan Rajneesh and followers in
Bhagwan Rajneesh and followers in "Wild Wild Country."
Bhagwan Rajneesh and followers in
Bhagwan Rajneesh speaking to followers in the Netflix series, "Wild Wild Country."

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The six-part docu-series on Netflix, "Wild Wild Country," tells the story of what happened when followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh built a compound in rural Oregon with hopes of creating a town of their own. 

It was the early 1980s and the episode consumed people and local media in Oregon. But it's a story that not many people outside of the state knew – including filmmaking brothers MacLain and Chapman Way, who co-directed the series. 

We basically got introduced to this story through an archivist who said that he had over 300 never-before-seen hours of footage on the story and told us that it involved a cult and mass poisonings and assassination attempts of state officials. And we [thought], Surely he doesn't have that, right? And we began reading and researching and, sure enough, everything he said was true.

The series makes ample use of that footage. There are shots of the followers clad in red and maroon clothes walking through the tiny town of Antelope. There's footage of the 63,000 acres of rocky rural terrain on which they built their compound. There are images of the Bhagwan arriving in one of his many Rolls Royces. They Way brothers say "he was known as the Rolls Royce guru because he owned 93 Rolls."

Bhagwan was an Indian guru and he was really well-liked by Westerners 'cause he was probably one of the first gurus to say, You can have wealth, you can be rich, you can have sex and you can still be enlightened

The Way brothers try to tell multiple sides of the story through interviews with the Bhagwan's followers and with townspeople from Antelope who saw the group as a "cult." Maclain Way told The Frame: "I think that cult hysteria was kind of at a peak after Jonestown. And Americans, especially Oregonians, saw this group in all red ... and assigned them these labels that maybe they didn't feel was appropriate."  

One key figure in the series is Ma Ananad Sheela who, during the Bhagwan's four-year vow of silence, was his voice. 

Ma Ananad Sheela and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in
Ma Ananad Sheela and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in "Wild Wild Country."


There are moments in the story, Chapman Way says, when decisions by Ma Sheela and others led to the downfall of the whole endeavor and led some people – including Ma Sheela — to jail.

In the series we wanted to give the viewers an idea of what the intention was of this community. But as you work your way through the series, I think you start seeing missteps after missteps that lead them towards a path that [wasn't] going to work out.

Maclain Way tells The Frame that he and his brother didn't want to come down in favor of either side, but rather to show each group with empathy and understanding and let the audience decide.

We wanted to show two vastly different perceptions of the same event that happened. I think you'll feel that as you're watching the documentary. If you're listening [as] a Rajnishi, we have edited and scored that piece through their lens, their perspective. If you're hearing [as] an Antelopian we have edited and scored that piece through their perspective. Because we wanted to make it as challenging as possible [for] the viewer to figure out how they feel about it — challenging in a fun and entertaining way and not in a confusing way.

I don't know if we ever felt that comfortable deciding at the end who was right and who was wrong. Hopefully this documentary generates a big conversation with the people that you watch it with on how you feel about it.


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