Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Down in the Dark with "The 33"

In 2010, people from around the world cheered the rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine for 69 days. The director of “The 33” had a whole lot to live up to.

The director’s goal was to show the human side of the story that we didn’t see in the news coverage. “I was sent the script. I thought it would be very challenging to tell a story about so many characters and such a long time. There are so many ways to tell this story, at least 33 because every one of these guys had a different version of what happened, and for me it was just a great challenge to piece it all together.”

Although the action sequences were thrilling, it was really the humanity that drew me into the story. It was the miners’ courage and loyalty in making sure that no one was left behind as the cave collapsed around them.

To enhance the realism, the film was shot in a Colombian mine. “Thirty-five days, 14 hours every day, six days a week we walked into a mine with hardhats and boots. No food allowed, no bathrooms.” Every minute the cast and crew were there, they were in danger. Sometimes the action was stopped while the head of the mine took precautions to have loose rocks removed. Imagine all those men confined to that cold, dark hole in the ground. Down there with them was – director Patricia Riggen.

Like the miners in the movie, the men struggled with the harsh conditions. But in the end, a comradery developed. The 33 miners had been left to their own devices in the dark mine. The group could have deteriorated into anarchy, with self-preservation the only rule. But instead of turning against each other, they developed a brotherhood. They chose democracy and watched out for each other. Otherwise, they wouldn't have survived.

Patricia Riggen
The director chose to show that the men were not alone. The miners got strength from their prayers - and the prayers of their families on the surface. The families never left their side. They camped outside the mine, picketing, demanding a rescue team. The female presence was definitely felt in the mine. The men found solace in the idea that their loved ones were counting on them. Perhaps Mexican director Patricia Riggen’s vision is most apparent in the moment of magical realism when the men share their “last dinner” (a can of tuna) and their wives and significant others join them. This scene was inspired by her research, in which the miners shared how they conjured up imaginary feasts together. 

One of the reasons that Patricia Riggen was hired was because of her vision for the project. She chose not to confine the movie to the claustrophobic, depressing mine. She expanded it to include the stories of the wives and families who demanded the rescue as well as the Chilean government's struggle with the politics and public relations of the rescue.

Having recently written, "Arizona's Real Mining Tradition," a blog about Arizona’s history of exploiting mine workers and the environment, I was keenly aware of the absence of a key player in the story: the head of the mining company. It was clear that the mining company had made a business decision - not to comply with costly safety measures. The foreman knew that the safety features weren’t in place. He pleaded with the mine manager to request the repairs, “It is my job to protect those miners.” But he is corrected. It is his job to keep the mine going to make a profit.  People dying are the cost of doing business. Finally the 100+ year old mine has had enough. A huge boulder twice the size of the Empire State Building becomes dislodged. Man’s reckless pursuit of profit finally broke the heart of the mountain.

But it wasn’t only the families that were there for the miners. The Chilean people, having just endured the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, had great empathy for the heartache of miners’ families. They were touched by their cries, “It’s not just miners down there, it is my brother, it is my husband.” The Chilean people pressured the government to take over the rescue efforts. Mining engineers from around the world and even NASA worked to rescue the miners. (Spoiler alert! lol) “The 33” miners were rescued. But the real miracle happened in the hearts of the people.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Check out my blog, "Arizona's Real Mining Tradition." 

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