Directed by long-time collaborators Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, THE DEVIL'S MINER is a moving portrait of two brothers--14-year-old Basilio and 12-year-old Bernardino--who work deep inside the Cerro Rico silver mines of Bolivia. Through the children's eyes, we encounter the world of devout Catholic miners who sever their ties with God upon entering the mountain, where it is an ancient belief that the devil, as represented by statues constructed in the tunnels, determines the fate of all who work within the mines, which date back to the sixteenth century.
As we come to know the brothers, we learn their fears and hopes for their future, and occasionally glimpse their childlike souls peeking through their stoic faces. Raised without a father, Basilio must work to support their family and to go to school and study, so that he and his family can one day leave the mines. Working 24 hour shifts, eating cocoa leaves to ward off hunger and drowsiness, Basilio then walks to the city to attend a school, where he is ostracized because he is a working miner. Yet, through it all, Basilio and his family retain a dignity and courage that is inspiring.
The filmmakers bring alive the depths of this mining community and the beauty of the many customs and traditions of the mining town filled with superstition. Each day as they enter the shafts, the Catholic miners bring offerings to carved statues called "Tio", the devil who determines the fate of all who work there. They stage large-scale rituals and sacrifices at the entrance to the mine, and carnivals where they parade through the streets. All of this is their effort to appease the "mountain that eats men alive" where millions of men have died in accidents and of disease and the life expectancy of workers is only 35-40 years old.
A prime example of how social issue films can make a difference, THE DEVIL'S MINER has brought attention to this situation and has encouraged educational and community programs in the US, Europe and Bolivia that are helping to get children out of the mines and into schools.
Basilio Vargas is a veteran mine worker. He's been employed by La Cumbre silver mine for four years. It's one of hundreds in Bolivia's Cerro Rico, known locally as "the mountain that eats men." Basilio is 14. He's often joined by 12-year-old brother Bernardino. It isn't unusual for the boys to work 12-hour shifts--even double shifts of 24 hours. His father died when he was two and Basilio is the primary breadwinner (his younger sister even calls him "papa"). Outside the mine, Basilio is Catholic. Inside, however, he puts his faith in the Devil, AKA "Tio." Basilio, boss Saturnino, and the other miners believe Tio controls their fate. Basilio's dream is to earn enough money to get an education and to leave the mines for good. Directed by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani and narrated by the subject himself, The Devil's Miner
doesn't look at child labor from several points of view, but almost exclusively from that of the child. While it may lack context, the film brings Basilio's world--both above and below ground--into stark relief. He's a well-spoken guide. Basilio is also a realist who knows what will happen if he doesn't escape: he'll be dead by 40 from lung disease or a mine collapse, just like an estimated eight million Cerro Rico workers before him. As Saturnino says about his young charges, "It's an incredible sadness." He would know--Saturnino was once a kid just like Basilio. --Kathleen C. Fennessy