The Devil's Miner (2005) Poster

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Moving, uplifting, and very powerful
Chris_Docker19 August 2005
A documentary about Devil-worship by devout Catholics, children included, sounds like a shock exposé from middle America. But it's South America, Bolivia to be exact, and we're talking full-blown adoration of devil effigies by the whole community, not some secret cult.

The devil in question is not the devil of abundance found in pagan ritual traced back to the horned gods of Pan, nor the closely linked neo-modern devil of the British occultist Aleister Crowley, much less the debased spectres of horror that have been a mainstay of western cinema. It is the devil of Christian Conquistadors that enslaved much of South America several centuries ago. They forced the indigenous people to work 24hr shifts in the mines with only four hours of sleep, kept awake with coca leaves. When the native Bolivians tried to revolt, they introduced fear of the devil to keep them in line.

The story is told more than once in the film, suggesting that the miners know of its invented origin but still fear and believe it. Outside the mines, Jesus Christ is supreme, and a cross surmounts the entrance. But inside, in the depths of the mountain, they are isolated. Thousands, maybe millions, have died in the mines of the 'Mountain that Eats Men', killed by explosions, accidents, or just the silicosis that eats away the lungs and kills men in their thirties. In every mine is a Devil, with an altar, and offerings are made to avert calamity. If the Devil is not given offerings, he will take them in human flesh.

The high male death rate means that many children are orphaned. Boys as young as 12 and 14 become the heads of their households and go to work in the mines to support the families. Necessity means laws against child labour are ignored. They chew coca leaves, which averts tiredness and hunger and increases their strength. About 800 children live on the mountain in Potosi, and most will never leave. At one stage, when yield from the mines had been particularly poor, we see the villagers calmly and routinely making an animal sacrifice. The blood of the unfortunate llama is splashed across the mine entrance as an appeasement to the anger of the Devil as they pray that he will not inflict harm on them and will release unto them the secret wealth of the mines. The kids are earning $2 a day.

Simply filming it looked harrowing. I asked Kief Davidson (one of the directors) if he had been scared at all or found filming in such dangerous conditions challenging. He mentioned that in one scene, where they are examining the Devil in a particular mine, one of the boys looks round suddenly a moment or two before the scene cuts. The reason (not shown in the film) was that there had been an explosion (unexploded dynamite is a constant hazard) and the miners wanted to get out before the tunnel collapsed and killed them all. But what worried them more was the fact that the film crew attempted to take some of the trappings from the Devil's altar.

This movie could easily have been a political one, a protest. The filmmakers chose instead to focus on the story of two young boys, Basilio and Bernadino. They face daily horrors, approach the shrine of the devil with awe and full knowledge of the local Catholic priest, dream of escaping the life of the mines for a better job. The humility and pride of the miners, and the strength with which the child workers bear such tragedy, is gut-wrenching.

As a footnote, Kief Davidson (at the Edinburgh International Film Festival) told me how the film company, together with a local sponsor from the first screening, had managed to ensure that for those two boys at least, the dream become reality.
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liepsj23 April 2005
I just saw this film at the Tribeca Film Festival and I was absolutely touched by the story and especially by the maturity and toughness of the children in it. My impression was that the audience also mostly loved it seen the reactions towards the directors afterwards and some quick looks at the voting bills. This documentary is about the 14 year old Bolivian Basilio Vargas who works in the horrifying silver mines of Cerro Rico. He and his brother have to do back-breaking and hazardous work with only $4 a day and the certainty of a quick death as reward. Folk myths in Catholic Bolivia tell that God cannot come into these silver mines. Therefore, to be sure of the required protection in the mines, the miners pray to the devil since he is the god of these dark, dangerous and hellish tunnels. The viewer is not only given a view into the consequences of this religious struggle but especially focuses on the total dependence of Basilio's poor fatherless family on Basilio's strains. This leads to heart breaking monologues from the lovable Basilio who also appears to be extremely well-spoken and has a great sense of responsibility and dedication. The footage shot inside the mines following Basilio left me speechless and with an incredible amazement on how one could even work there for a whole week, let alone 4 years. The images on the outside show a huge contrast with wide breathtaking views and mountains. These images however only occasionally reach the magical beauty of for example the south-American landscapes in The Motorcylce Diaries. Nevertheless a touching movie which filled me with great admiration for the heroic Basilio. 8 out of 10
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Must See Doc- The Devil's Miner
kmdanse25 July 2006
This is a truly captivating and personal story of a 14-year old boy struggling for a better life. My family and I watched the film, and we can not believe the treacherous conditions endured by these underage child miners. Basilio Vargas and his younger brother should serve as role models for those of us who have ever complained about a rough life. Much to my surprise, a powerful sense of courage, faith and family exists, and the Bolivian culture speaks volumes on screen. These daring filmmakers have masterfully captured a forgotten world and made it accessible to those of us who will never have to set foot inside of a mine. It is commendable that they risked their own lives to bring us such reality.
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An unusually good documentary, a tragic situation, and one heroic young man.
andlaw9919 June 2006
Yes, this documentary is about poor, fatherless children who must work in the hazardous mines to support their families. I won't go into a lot of detail about the specifics of the film--you can find that in other user comments. There are multitudes of documentaries detailing the sad stories the less fortunate members of the world are forced to live every day. So what? What makes this movie different?

Two things: 1) the incredible maturity and strength of character of Basilio Vargas (the 14 year old miner the documentary is centered around) and 2) the expert way the filmmakers let the story tell itself instead of force-feeding the viewer pity and guilt.

I am not a filmmaker, but I think it took a great deal of wisdom for them to realize that this young man could relate the story on his own better than any amount of narration or scripted propaganda. Basilio is heroic, mature, a dreamer with goals and aspirations, a fatherless child, a father to his siblings, a breadwinner for the family, and he never complains about any of it.

Watching this film makes you want to comfort Basilio and then get down on your knees and ask God for forgiveness for being such an ungrateful and spoiled Westerner. Somehow though, you come away from it wishing you could show it to everyone you know, and wishing you could tell Basilio how much you admire him.
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Unforgettable !!!
info-44227 June 2005
I have seen the documentary DEVIL'S MINER in Prague during ONE WORLD festival. It was fantastic shot, moreover I have been to that mines in 2002 and I was shocked by that fact, that children work in there :(

Your documentary brought back many of the experiences we had there, and I would like to commend you on how well you were able to bring it to life on the big screen.

I'm looking forward to contributing to the cause through CARE and KINDERNOTHILFE. Thanks again for lettings us know about their programs. Congratulation to the camera and the directors who made this movie !!! It is unforgettable !!!
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One of the best documentaries yet
rocky25761 May 2005
The devil's minor is one of the best documentary I have seen yet. I saw it's premiere at the Tribeca Film festival April 28, 2005. I wanted to see as many Spanish movies at the festival as I could. This film was one of them. As I read the description of the movie, I thought it was interesting. When I saw that it was from both USA and Germany, I paused for a second and said Germany, okay! Watching the film, I give all respect and congratulations to both directors. They told the story of 14 year old Basilio, his brother and mother and their struggle to support the family so beautifully. I must say the film quality and shots were great especially under the cave. The way they shot the cave scenes, it made you feel as if you were Basilio working and walking inside the caves. This film was surprising. Being Spanish and catholic myself, I had no idea people would actually worship the devil for protection under the caves. I found it very odd and difficult to understand how the people would go to church and worship God one minute then turn around and worship the devil the next. I know that I am very LUCKY to have the things that I do, however, I believe watching this film will truly show people just how lucky they have it. Imagine working 24 hours a day in the USA and only earning 3 dollars. Imagine supporting 4 people on that. All that hard dangerous work just so that someone can walk to a store and buy that ring so put in their finger or earrings to wear in their ear. All the lives that are lost for that. Unimaginable. I strongly urge those in the position to help those that are not as fortunate to do so. The shots that were filmed, the sky, mountain, people were beautiful. Thank you Kief and Richard for showing us a part of Bolivia many of us were not aware of and have not seen. Thank you for taking the time after the movie to stay and talk to us to answer question what we had. Congratulations once again.
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An educated film-goer will be their best customers!
asc8515 October 2006
An uncompromising view of the mining culture in Bolivia. I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers didn't try to hit us over the head with what the "message" of this film was supposed to be. It's pretty obvious, and it's obviously very sad. The lack of a "victim mentality" was startling to see, especially when we have so many "victims" and complainers in the United States whom I'm sure these miners would be willing to "trade-up" to their lifestyle in a second.

Judging by the dearth of user comments, and even the small number who rated this film, it is sad that more people haven't seen this movie. It is an excellent documentary, and worth the effort to find on DVD.
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There But for the Grace of God Go We
John W Chance22 December 2007
This is an excellently made documentary. The visual quality of the film has a fresh, live look. The beauty of Bolivia is contrasted with a horrifying story being told about the silver mines and miners of the Cerro Rico Mountain in Bolivia, a mountain called, "The Mountain that Eats Men." It is a film about one of the real hells that exists on our planet -- the plight of miners. There are over 5,000 Indios working at one of the 500 miner owned cooperatives on Cerro Rico, which has been mined for over 450 years. It is estimated that over 8 million have died in the mines. Most of the miners die in their forties from silicosis, a debilitating lung disease contracted from inhaling too much dust; others die from explosions, cave-ins and falling rocks.

Each mine has its own evil god called a "Tio" (a corruption of the word "Dio") a devil god that must be respected to avoid an early death, and to hopefully help them find more silver. As explained by the miners, the Tio was created by the so-called 'Christian' Conquistadores to quite literally put 'the fear of the devil" into them. It worked. They still worship and give reverence to the Tios.

The miners know they will not live very long because of silicosis. One shot shows their graveyard. They know they are sacrificing themselves for their families; they feel proud to be miners, so that they can help their families, and Bolivia! Contrast this with so many young people here in America who gladly sacrifice their families for their own self serving pleasure, and you get an awakening about how mature and heroic the narrator of the film, the 14 year old miner Basilio is.

He narrates the movie. You can't help but get really drawn into the film. It's mostly the story of Basilio, his brother Bernardo and their mother. There are many touching scenes with Basilio interacting with others. He talks to miners about Tio, and to Bernardo about their dreams of leaving the mines. He wants to be a teacher, and Bernardo wants to be a civil engineer.

However, in order to make more money, he goes to work at a different and more dangerous mine, where the boss sees him as his pick to grow up to be a drilling master. He's actually condemning him to death, since the person who does the pneumatic drilling inhales the most dust and will surely die from silicosis. Condemned in die in blinding dust, dreams of living destroyed.

As noted by others above, fortunately, Basilo and his brother were rescued from the mines by the filmmakers, and are now able to live full time normal lives away from the mines.

Part of the excellence of the film is that it is in no way judgmental about its subject: it does not have a voice over narration telling us anything, nor any didactic juxtapositioning of images nor Michael Moore trying to get into the offices of presidents of American silver import companies, but rather lets the actual natives of the city of Potosi tell their own story. It does not place blame, but leaves that to us as viewers.

This is the way documentaries should be made, practically as tightly edited 'slice of life'. It's also the kind of film we need to see to remind us, that while we sit here in comfort at our computers, we are living off the blood, sweat and toil of the world's masses; standing on the backs of the poor, the exploited and the dead. Check out the Internet for fact articles on miner's lung diseases. You'll be shocked at how many are dying not just in Bolivia or the United States, but also in China.

Good documentaries like this one let the story speak for itself. I give it an 8.
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14 year old Basilio and his 12 year old brother Bernardino are miners
adoniel3 June 2006
There are a number of excellent films about children available. This is a new one, and certainly merits attentions. It is a very moving study of the lives of children who every day face a very harsh reality. These children work in the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia, famed for the terrible acts of depredations perpetrated on the Native Americans by the Spanish colonial powers. This is both a wrenching study of kids willingness to do what must be done to survive as well as a fantastic statement about their strength and hope. Thanks to the film and the notoriety that went with it and the support of child advocacy groups, the story has a happy ending. If you saw and were impressed by such films as Death in Gaza or Promises, which also depict children suffering at the hands of adults in today's world, you will be equally moved by this one.
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Bolivia, poverty, loyalty
Jill Bornor17 June 2006
Fourteen-year-old Basilio Vargas supports his family (mother, younger brother and sister) by working long hours in the local silver mine. He worships "el Tio," the devil, while working underground, because the devil rules the dark tunnels of the cave. Outside, he is a devout Catholic who worships Christ. Thus, he torn between the two worlds in which he lives. Basilio is a fine example of an industrious, patient and loyal individual; he puts his own health, his education, his family, and his position as provider for them above all else. He is wise beyond his years, and his eloquence reflects his intelligence and forthrightness. Those interested in South America and the Spanish language will be especially intrigued by this view of Basilio and rural life in Bolivia.
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This is why documentary exists
benjaminburt26 September 2017
Without film, we could never have The Devil's Miner. Magazines, books, photos, songs, and stories cannot convey the raw emotion and the broad story like a film can.

The story is of a Bolivian boy from Potosi who must work as a miner to help support his family. One of the main ideas captured in the film is the dichotomy between the surface world and the mine. The surface world is ruled by Jesus, but within the mine, the miners are at the mercy of the "Tio," or the devil. This framing device actually gives more direct meaning to the story: the miners have become subjugated to the earth and to the devil.

What's refreshing in this story is that there's no mustache-twirling evil businessman enslaving these miners. The evil is in the earth itself, both above and below the surface. The mine conspires to kill the miners, rob them of light and of their lungs and limbs, while the outside world also shows no mercy to the miners, as they are forced to work to make a living. The film doesn't portray this as some social evil, the rich preying on the weak, but rather the fallen world preying on its inhabitants. Whether or not the devil is real, the film obviously communicates that the miners, and by extension, all of us, are at the mercy of a fallen earth.

This documentary is nicely shot, and makes its audience feel uncomfortable in all the right ways. It makes you see and feel the situation. It's what documentary is all about.

The film doesn't have much re-watch value and is not especially influential, so I don't feel good giving anything more than an 8, but definitely a great film.
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A Significant Documentary About Another World, An Important Life
museumofdave27 March 2013
Basilio is a boy you won't forget; only 14, he works below the Bolivian earth as a miner, working with his younger brother to find what little silver might be left beneath the chilly mud of the long-mined mountain. What dazzled me in this documentary is how filmmakers Davidson and Ladkani disappear, how they create a full picture of a young life in peril, how objectively they allow Basilio to tell his tale; occasionally you're aware of the lush sunsets that contrast with the grey mud the boy tramps through on his way to a long shift in unbelievably risky tunnels; it would be easy to continue to extol this films many virtues; The Devil's Miner is an important film about the need for education in a place where the basic necessities are barely obtainable--it's also about courage and self-determination. The fine documentary is certainly not your usual entertainment, but it's not easily forgotten.
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Not a bad film but for one really bad mistake in production.
Observant Human21 December 2010
Official release I got today from a normal movie rental agent has HARDCODED subs and I speak Spanish. It's jarring to try and watch a movie and have the dialogue in *GIANT* letters in English. The fact that English and Spanish word ordering and grammar are light years apart doesn't help that concept one bit. Why do a Spanish movie that is hard to enjoy in the Spanish language?

Nice cinematography, for the most part, but WHY on the jarring subs?

Interesting story, pretty camera work for the most part.

Munged up by not giving me an option to turn off subs.

Good story, questionable execution. I'm going to see if I can get a Spanish language version to watch.
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I've a Devil's Miner.. on my mind.
Spuzzlightyear19 October 2005
This movie tells of families who have no choice but to send their kids to work for the family because the father is either dead, or who knows what. In this case, we meet two kids, Basilio and Bernandino, aged 14 and 12, respectably, who, because of their father's death, now have to work in the mines to support the family, namely their mother and their infant sister. So off to the mines they go, making of course, next to nothing. SOMEHOW, the kids make enough money to send Basilio to school, who amazingly is teased because he works in the mines, Soon, another mining position opens up, but Basilio has to go farther away..

OK, we've seen this type of documentary before, (EG kids forced to work horrendous jobs!) but this doc gets points for making the mine one interesting character. The mine, Bolivians believe is controlled by Satan himself, and they must put up an effigy and offer it gifts in order not to die in the mines, which would really suck lol.
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