Review: The Devil's Miner

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Fourteen year-old Basilio and 12 year-old Bernardino work deep in the silver mines of Bolivia, where the average life expectancy of those who dare enter the dark, dangerous maze of tunnels daily is about 35. It is estimated that about 8 million souls have perished there over the past 450 years, which helps explain why these two young brothers would like to find an alternative to a job where they have to worry about the ever-present risk of an explosion or cave-in.

And even if they are lucky enough to avoid such a disaster, they still face the long-term statistical certainty of silicosis, an irreversible, dust-induced lung disease. Because they boys have seen so many afflicted with it cough-up blood till their lungs explode, they freely express their fears about their line of work.

You might wonder why a couple of kids even ended up in this predicament to begin with. Well, their father died when they were two and this is the only employment available to children in their hometown of Potosi, which happens to be the highest city in the world. As the elder adolescent explains, “If I had a father, I would be able to study more.� But between attending Catholic school in their formal uniforms and 12-hour shifts inside Cerro Rico, “The Mountain That Eats Men,� Basilio and Bernardino don’t get many opportunities to enjoy the panoramic views or the bracing fresh air. Worse, while they dream of growing up to be an engineer and a teacher, respectively, they sense that they are fated to eke out a living in the tunnels with a helmet, chisel and lamp.

Their heartbreaking plight sits at the center of The Devil's Miner, a documentary which exposes the twin evils of child labor and silver mining, while simultaneously making some sobering statements about such social issues as poverty and globalization. The movie takes its title from the fact that the boys were turned into devil worshippers by older co-workers and they now make sacrifices to Diablo believing that he alone is capable of protecting anyone underground, not Christ.

In sum, The Devil's Miner is a most powerful expose’ of an ongoing, mass scale human tragedy, since these unfortunate little orphans are only two among 800 children currently handling picks and dynamite in the depths of the unforgiving Cerro Rico.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

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