THE DEVIL'S MINER

Miners & Minors

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Filmmaker Q&A

On a gray, cloudy day, three miners atop a mountain: one pulls and two push a heavy cart across a narrow uneven rocky surface

Filming in the mines was definitely the most dangerous thing we had ever done. The likelihood of tunnel collapses, toxic gases, runaway carts and dynamite explosions created constant anxiety. At an altitude of almost 15,000 feet, we relied on chewing coca leaves and chocolate bars to battle relentless headaches and fatigue. One wrong turn could drop you down a dark shaft with no hope for rescue.
– Kief Davidson, director,
THE DEVIL’S MINER

Co-director Kief Davidson discusses the challenges in shooting a literal underground documentary and their hope for social change for the child miners of Bolivia.

What led you to make THE DEVIL’S MINER?

Kief Davidson, director: It originated from an interest in the history and religious dichotomy of the Potosí miners. It wasn't until Richard Ladkani and I traveled to Bolivia on a research trip in 1999 that we discovered the children who work in the Cerro Rico mountain. Our focus then changed and we ultimately made this film to bring awareness to this issue so it might lead to a durable solution to the mining problems in Potosí.

How did you find Basilio and his family?

The challenge for THE DEVIL’S MINER was finding a young boy who could carry and narrate a feature-length film. We hired a former miner and local guide who introduced us to a dozen families. The Vargas family was the first on his list and we were immediately captivated with Basilio’s positive energy, intelligence and articulate speech. The family enthusiastically agreed to participate and welcomed our crew into their home. Basilio, along with his younger brother Bernardino and sister Vanessa, were completely natural in front of the camera.

Tell us about the experience of filming in the mines.

In the claustrophobic tunnels, we shot with a small-format digital camera. Anything larger would have been impossible. The miners’ open-flame carbon lamps were used as the main source of lighting. These lamps could also detect poisonous gases; if the flame blew out, that indicated the need to leave immediately. Often the temperature changed within a matter of seconds. When it reached 110°F, work became unbearable.

Did the Bolivian government throw up any roadblocks?

No. We were granted access by the city of Potosí to film in the Cerro Rico mines. Some politicians and mine owners refused to be interviewed, but overall access was quite good.

What impact do you hope THE DEVIL’S MINER will have?

The biggest impact has been a €1 million donation to Kindernothilfe’s program for the mining children in Potosí. Kindernothilfe (Help the Children) is a German non-profit charity that built a children's center to provide mining kids with essentials like tutoring and nutrition. This will bring about tremendous change for years to come. See How to Help for more detailed information on how this film is making an impact >>

When did filming take place?

We went to Bolivia on a research trip back in 1999. We returned in the spring of 2004 to do the bulk of the filming. We finished editing in January 2005 and had our world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival three days after completing post-production.

What has been the audience response so far?

The film has been broadcast or theatrically released in 15 countries and the support and feedback has been tremendous.

Have you screened it in Bolivia for the miners? What was their reaction?

We screened the film last summer in Cochabamba, Bolivia for local politicians, local press and child miners from Cerro Rico, including Basilio and Bernardino. We plan on having a screening in Potosí soon.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

The support of other filmmakers and family has been key. Finding financing is incredibly difficult and you are told “no” quite often, so you need other people to keep you motivated. Filmmaking is a collaborative medium and having a partner that compliments your skills and vision can make the whole process a lot easier.

What are your three favorite films (of any genre)?

I have too many to list, but some recent films are: City of God, Tsotsi, Turtles Can Fly and Young Frankenstein (not so recent, but, hey, it’s a classic!).

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

My taxes.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?

Free food.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Try not to pick a life-threatening topic. And if you do, downplay it to your relatives before you leave!

Read about child labor in the mines >>

Learn more about organizations working on eliminating poverty in Bolivia >>

Find out how to get involved >>

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