The Devil's Miner
There’s no magic realism to be found in the hard lives of 14-year-old Basilio Vargas and his 12-year-old brother, Bernadino. The two are among the estimated 800 children who work alongside thousands of adults in the treacherous Cerro Rico silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia — 400-year-old tunnels spread out inside a mountain maze of danger at an average altitude of some 15,000 feet. There is, though, artistic magic at work in the breathtaking documentary The Devil’s Miner, a stunning portrait of the Vargas brothers, their world, and the spiritual beliefs that shape their lives. Poverty and a legacy of early death by silicosis have taught the people of Potosi to believe, with good reason, that although the God of their devout Catholic faith rules the outside realm, the mines are owned by the devil, called el Tío, or Uncle. And so the devil too is placated where he lives: most astonishingly, with hundreds of frightening underground statues, adorned with offerings — tobacco and alcohol — from men who pray for their lives.
Documentarians Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani struck gold when they found articulate, fatherless Basilio, a boy who chews coca leaves to ward off fatigue and dreams of becoming a teacher. But the grace and clarity of the photography (by Ladkani) and editing (by Davidson) are the result of filmmaking gifts, not interview luck. This beautiful, terrible story is not easily forgotten.