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Devil’s Miner

by Archives January 24, 2007

This semester’s Cinema Politica series started off with The Devil’s Miner, a movie shot in Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest countries. The movie addresses issues such as child labour, exploitation of workers, the consequences of colonization, religion and the community’s sense of hopelessness in the face of the miners’ situation. Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani’s documentary has so far managed to raise _1 million for the children of Potosi, donated by the a German charity fund.

Fourteen-year-old Basilio Vargas and his 12-year-old brother Bernardo work in the silver mines of Cerro Rico. The ancient mining area was uncovered by the Spanish about 450 years ago and is located just above the city of Potosi, also known as the highest city in the world. 8 million people are said to have died in the mines.

The two boys lost their father at a very early age and have to support their family by working in the mines, just like 800 other children of Potosi. The boys chew on coca leaves to overcome hunger and fatigue and make their lives more bearable. Basilio goes to school but always has to worry about being able to afford it. Without an education he has no chance to escape the mines.

The indigenous people who work in the mines do so because they have no other choice in order to make a living. Wages are lo. Not only is the work extremely dangerous, it also seriously threatens a worker’s health. The average life expectancy of a miner is about 40 years, with silicosis as the main cause of death among miners.

The mining community is highly superstitious and has built up its own customs and traditions. It is a world of its own. They say “Outside reigns God, inside the Devil” when referring to the mines. Each mine has its own “Tio”, a sort of evil spirit that guards the mine and can only be pleased with blood offerings and coca leaves.

The movie has won several awards such as the International Film Critic Award for Hot Docs -Toronto (Fipresci Prize), the Spirit of Freedom Award for Best Documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival.

According to Unicef, 800,000 children under the age of 18 are currently working in Bolivia.

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