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The Devil's Miner

4.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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(May 23, 2006)
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Spanish ed.
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

  • Short Film: One Year Later
  • Photo gallery
  • Resources
  • Film notes
  • Study guide

Product Details

  • Actors: Basilio Vargas, Bernardino Vargas
  • Directors: Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Spanish (Unknown)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
  • Run Time: 82 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000EULK14
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,856 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Devil's Miner" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This story, the story of child laborers in the "3rd world" is a harrowing account of poverty and misery. But it is also a story about hope, the hope that these children, and the some 800 other children who work the same mines, can get out of the life and acheive something more than the certain death that awaits all of such miners. What a great movie, you actually start to feel clausterphobic when the camera takes you to the deepest depths of the mines with these children. You feel your throat start to close up when you watch these workers walk through the dust without masks.

This movie explains why someone like Evo Morales has come to power in Bolivia, and anyone who derieds such a humble man as Morales needs to watch this DVD.
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Basilio and Bernandino Vargas are two Bolivian kids who, because of the death of their father, have to work as child laborers in the Cerro Rico silver mines. Basilio works long shifts for $2.50 a day. But then transfers to a more dangerous mine where he is able to make $4.00 a day. Somehow he manages to also attend to school, though he has to spend a substantial amount of his salary just to pay for his school uniform.

One of the great things about this doc is that the film makers have a sincere humanitarian purpose. They not only want to educate viewers about the horrors of child labor. But actually do something tangiable to better the lives of these kids.

Included in the bonus features is a short film which shows how Basilio and Bernardino are doing one year after filming. Apparently an aide agency called Kindernothilfe has enabled the boys to leave the mines, move their family into a apartment in Potosi and continue their educations so they will have better opportunities in life.

I wish these great youngsters, and others like them, all the best. They deserve it!
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Format: DVD
Seldom does a documentary capture both my mind and heart, yet 'The Devil's Miner' does just that. This is more than an entrance into hell on earth; it is the story of a child captured by the beast of poverty and despair.

Because of my humanitarian work I have been inside the La Cumbre silver mine, the mountain that eats men. This excellent documentary captures the darkness and dome of those that scrape out a meager living, while at the same time giving the viewer hope for those trapped. There is a light at the end of the shaft, a very small distant light, but light nonetheless.

This is a must view for all who will be going to Bolivia and especially for those who will visit this mine in Potosi. Excellent. Highly Recommended.
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Format: DVD
This movie is eye-opening. It shows how life in poor countries is very different in so many ways from that in the affluent USA.

What's it like to work in silver mines when you are still a child? This Spanish-language movie, with English subtitles, tells it all. The father had died years ago, and the mother must take care of younger children. So, as is true in other situations where the oldest child must grow up fast and assume many of the responsibilities of the missing parent, the 14 year-old boy must work to support the family. So does his 12 year-old brother. When the 14 year-old moves on to the larger, more profitable mine (in the "mountain that eats people"), the only consolation is the fact that the foreman pledges to the mother that he will watch out for the boy. Mining is arduous and dangerous. The miners of all ages must chew on coca leaves (the precursor to cocaine) in order to combat fatigue.

Most cases of child labor involve situations where generations of people are trapped in poverty. This situation is potentially different. The larger mine has pneumatic drills, suggesting that technological improvements in Bolivian mining will eventually make child labor unprofitable and therefore obsolete. The 12 and 14 year-old boys go to school in hopes that they can get safer and better-paying jobs when they are older. They wear uniforms that their mother can barely afford. As a professional educator, I am struck by the respect for education and its contrast with the often superficial attitudes of American parents and children towards the schooling process.

Both children and adults in this area believe that, whereas God rules the world above ground, the Tio (Satan) rules the underworld.
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Format: DVD
Two Americans, Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, went to Bolivia to film this documentary. I saw this film at its New York City premiere a few years ago, in a theater in Greenwich Village, and Mr. Davidson was in the audience. He answered a number of questions after the film was over. While some efforts are being made to address the horrific situation of pre-teenagers working under dangerous health conditions in the Bolivian silver mines, nowhere near enough funding is available to prevent this enormously saddening practice from continuing.

The sight of miners--boys and men alike--walking maskless in and through clouds of mineral dust is truly horrifying. Then when you realize that some of these boys are as young as 12 years old, it's even worse. This scenario, when juxtaposed with miners praying to various statues of the devil--most festooned with flowers, food, and other items of thanks--is almost too bizarre to be believed, especially given the devout Catholicism of the population. But in the mines of Bolivia, the devil is, for better or worse, the chief deity--it is he who holds sway over the daily lives of the miners who, if they live past the age of 40, are considered lucky indeed.

The main character in the film is a 14-year old boy who with his 12-year old brother works in these mines to put food on the table for his broken family (the father is not in the household). He goes to school with his brother and hopes for a better future, but it's relatively clear, seeing the film, that this is really a dim kind of hope.

The Devil's Miner brings to light one of the most tragic plights of people living in poverty in various parts of the world. It's interesting to compare this with a feature film, Blind Shaft, set in China, about two miners who perpetrate a murderous scam to make money additional to their work.

This is a superior film, very highly recommended.
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