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