Documentary - Gunther's Millions

With the documentary [shouldn't that be "DOG"-umentary? - Ed] series now available on Netflix, read and interview with the film-makers of Gunther's Millions...

Press Release

Multi-millionaire Gunther VI lives in the lap of luxury: He travels on private planes, eats gold-flaked steaks for dinner, and surrounds himself with a glamorous entourage of spokesmodels and entertainers. He is also a German shepherd dog. 

As the legend goes, Gunther’s great-grandfather was originally owned by a mysterious countess whose son died tragically. Having no heirs, the countess bequeathed her considerable fortune to her beloved dog, and placed him in the care of her son’s close friend, an Italian pharmaceutical heir and aspiring impresario named Maurizio Mian. 

Over the past 30 years, Mian has built an empire on behalf of his canine boss, including glamorous real estate purchases, controversial social experiments, and one of the biggest tax fraud schemes of all time. It’s a fairy tale both beautiful and bizarre, and naturally, questions abound. 

In this whirlwind of a four-part investigative documentary series, executive producers Aurelien Leturgie and Emilie Dumay crisscross the globe in search of answers, gaining access to never-before-seen archival material and sitting down for intimate and sometimes shocking conversations with Mian and the rest of Gunther’s longtime associates in hopes of understanding the complicated truth behind the world’s wealthiest pet.

How did you discover Gunther and – more importantly – his handler Maurizio Mian? Obviously this story has been known to some extent for over two decades, and yet I don’t think anyone really understood the full extent of it, until now.

Aurelien Leturgie, Director/Executive Producer: I moved to Miami in 2000, and remember hearing about this millionaire dog that had bought Madonna's mansion. It was very big local news, and at the time I was like, Wow, that is really bizarre. But the story died pretty much right after it became public, as things did before social media. Fast forward about two years ago, I came across an article on Gunther and connected the dots. It really piqued our interest. Is there more to the story? There is a rich dog, there's a lot of money, it's a very wacky story of this inheritance. But how is it even possible? Can a dog make business decisions? How does that work? And who is behind the dog’s money?

Emilie Dumay, Executive Producer: Having an inheritance that's being used for the benefit of the dog and making sure that he lives a nice life is one thing. But when it comes to, like, actively buying real estate and doing things that are a little bit outside the normalcy for an animal, then there's definitely someone behind this pulling the strings, and we had to know more. That's where it all started.

There are parts of this story that take place before the internet was what it is today, which means you had to do extensive research and rely on rich archival material to set the scenes. How was this process?

Leturgie: It was like peeling an onion, discovering new things. When we jumped into this story about two years ago, we didn't know all of the layers, so we went through the journey of researching in a very organized way.

Dumay: We started talking to the main characters – Maurizio and [his ex-wife and business partner] Carla. We had to create a relationship of trust, and the first step was to go meet them in person. We felt like they needed that push, they needed to look us in the eyes.

Leturgie: Maurizio has been approached by many producers over the years, but I think they all wanted to do a fluffy piece on the wealth of the dog. We knew there was something else, and we wanted to be honest with them and say, Listen, we want you to tell the story in full.

Dumay: We went to Europe to meet with them, and planned a few days of filming. We came home with a set of interviews, a lot of B-roll, and two suitcases full of archives – VHS casting tapes, newspaper clips, a lot of it in Italian, and some things in English from their time in Miami that were at least 20 years old.

It seems like there are moments in your conversations where Maurizio is completely focused, and then moments where he’s very frail. Was he deteriorating over the course of production? How much of that is an act?

Leturgie: When we first came to interview Maurizio and Carla, we knew it was going to be a make it or break it moment for us, because we wanted to really go into those questions about the origins of the money as well as the Countess and tax evasion and so on. So we were like, We probably have one shot here, because once we start asking these questions, they might shut down, and no longer cooperate with us.’. And that's why, maybe, in his interviews, there are peaks and valleys. There were subjects he was definitely not comfortable discussing. Emilie speaks Italian fluently, so she would catch things. In the first interview, when we asked him about the origins of Gunther’s money, he called Carla and said [in Italian], “You know, they're asking us tricky questions. What do we say?”

Dumay: “We’ve gotta be careful with them.” We had different stages of Maurizio, of him realizing this is going deeper. Obviously, he wants the story of Gunther to be known, so he was very excited about this process and very cooperative with us. But there are other moments where he was kind of losing his grip on it. That's when we get the Maurizio that's deteriorating a little bit, especially in that interview where he asked us to cut our cameras and said, “I don't want to go too deep into the story of the Countess.”

You made a very conscious decision to allow this story to unravel as you tell it. Can you talk about that choice?

Dumay: We decided to tell the story following our journey as filmmakers, and how it really unraveled for us. We wanted our P.O.V. to drive where the revelations come in, to make the audience aware of them and experience them as we did ourselves. You can really grab onto this story without having to know that you might be fooled. That's why it’s so interesting.

Let’s talk about some of the supporting characters. You’ve got several spokespeople who seem perhaps not entirely sincere. You’ve got a doctor who may or may not be real. You’ve got an attorney who is absolutely just in this for the money.

Dumay: The doctor is absolutely real. He is a psychiatrist in Italy, actually. I think he’s working on a book about his research with Maurizio.

Leturgie: Maurizio always has an entourage. He’s the mad scientist for these ideas, but he doesn't want to lead them. Empowering these people was smart of him, because he's giving them stakes, skin in the game. He’s surrounded himself over the years with people who were maybe there for the wrong reasons, but he's accepted that to some degree, because they bring something to the table, they make him feel better, or they help him in some capacity. And I think Lee, the spokesman, is a good example of that. As he says, “I wanted to be a tick on that dog’s ass for the rest of my life.” But 20 years later, he truly cares for Maurizio.

Dumay: Yeah, I think there's a mutual need. I think Lee has had the sweetest deal ever, and Maurizio knows it. But Maurizio was looking to surround himself with people like Lee, who are fun, enthusiastic, can really play along with his story and bring things to life. It comes from a deep, honest desire to help people – help himself – cure depression, really trying to find the true meaning of happiness. Maybe he's doing it in all the wrong ways or has his eccentric methods to get there, but it's not inauthentic.

What’s interesting is how this story dovetails into what we now would call influencer culture, even though that word didn't really necessarily exist back then.

Dumay: Maurizio lived in the wrong time, I think. If he had done all this nowadays, it would have had a different reach. He was trying to create a lifestyle. This is what influencers do, all day, every day. He thought about creating a TV show, he made all these promotional videos, but except from creating a stir in the local news, he didn't have many ways to reach people. So he had to get attention as he could, mostly through shock. Today, with Social Media, his outreach and actions could have been completely different.

Despite every crazy twist, the series takes a truly unexpected turn at the end, and your denouement is incredibly sweet and poignant. Did you expect that when you started this journey?

Leturgie: No, to be honest with you. The entry point of this story is so outlandish that we knew we were in for a ride, but we didn't expect this to besuch a journey, or to travel to all these destinations with the dog and for the dog’s benefit. It's been amazing for us as well, finding the real origins of that story, and being able to share it with such a broad audience.

Dumay: Our relationship with Maurizio was also different from what we expected. We thought he was going to be an interviewee, and we would have to put our guard up to decide how much to trust him. Leturgie: We filmed the first interview under the expectation that we would probably never see them again, given the nature of our questions!

Dumay: But he became a character who fascinated us, with his complexity and who unexpectedly became quite relatable. We’ve learned a lot from him and our relationship with him through this project, by having to walk the line between fantasy and reality It took some time to get to these honest moments where the fantasy fades away and we see the truth being revealed, and humane interactions blossom.

Is there any way to sum up this wild ride in three sentences or less?

Leturgie: It’s a story of a rich dog and an inheritance. The dog is a German shepherd, but it's also a concept. It's an ideology, it’s a lifestyle. It's also a story of media manipulation. It's a story of a pursuit of happiness. It has universal themes that relate to people. It's also about mental health. That was like seven sentences.

Dumay: I think it’s about a fantasy and a person who's behind it pulling the strings. Why is he doing it? That’s what made it interesting. It's not just about a rich dog.

So who or what is at the heart of the story?

Leturgie: There's a part of me that wants to say Gunther, because everything revolves around Gunther. It comes back to the story of the rich dog and the countess who gave him her money. It’s a fairy tale, and we had to really dig deep to find the truth. But Maurizio may very well be the center of the story, although he does not think he's an interesting character! The takeaway here is that money can't necessarily buy you happiness. And Maurizio is the very living proof of that.

Images & info - Netflix

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