In 10 Words or Less
Down in a hole, losing his soul
Loves: Good documentaries, living in America
Likes: Basilio, child labor laws
Dislikes: Feeling bad
Basilio is a 14-year-old boy from Bolivia, and he's dealing with more issues than your average teenager. Instead of being concerned with acne or girls, he worries about pulling down a few dollars each day, mining silver deep inside a dangerous and depleted mountain, so he can provide for his family. And he still has to go to school to boot. Thus, he makes a great choice for a protagonist for this documentary.
Though Basilio's story (along with that of his younger brother) is certainly worth discovering, there's a more interesting tale to tell in those mines. The pious Catholics of these depressed Bolivian towns worship God and Jesus above ground, only to hand over their souls to Tio, or Satan himself, once on the job, hoping to be protected by the fallen angel in his domain. Footage of blood sacrifices and elaborate statues in the mines illustrate this unusual dichotomy, one that is fascinating and disturbing. Unfortunately, this unique facet of the miners' lives is too often on the back-burner.
The human drama of Basilio's life unfolds in increasingly depressing detail, as he is forced to put himself in more danger to earn more money, and risks being trapped in a life he's trying to escape through an education. From his flame-lit helmet to the deadly gases, from his coca leaves to the treacherous slopes, Basilio's life is not an easy one, though his younger brother idolizes him and his younger sister sees him as a father figure. One can't help to feel bad for this intelligent, hard-working boy, who's forced by his life situation to be older than he should be.
Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani crafted a gorgeous, moving documentary the old-fashioned way, by getting their hands dirty. Climbing into the mines with Basilio and the miners, they put themselves in harm's way, and put the viewer right in the middle of the dangerous conditions, showing the crumbling tunnels and hazardous mine practices. They also have a great eye for composing a documentary, capturing moments with the beauty and skill of feature film artists.
Though the film introduces some very interesting concepts and subjects, it feels a little light when the credits roll. A deeper look at the town priest, who battles for the hearts and souls of the people against the respect Tio, would have made for a more insightful look at the two sides of the miners' beliefs, while we also could have also used a look at who collects the profits earned from the work of children. Even without them though, the movie is solidly informative about a world few have encountered.
Presented on one DVD in a standard black keepcase, The Devil's Miner features a gorgeous animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu that offers options to watch the film, select scenes, check out special features and view previews. Transitions between screens is excellent as well, with no audio languages or subtitles available, no closed captioning, and a scene selection menu with still previews and titles.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks solid, without any large obvious flaws. Color is good, as is the level of detail. Only a few scenes have some slight softness to them, but most are of a very nice quality. There's not a spot of dirt or damage.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and it is good, but certainly not outstanding. Delivering crisp dialogue and good music and sound effects, the presentation is center-channel, and won't stress your receiver.
One Year Later, is a 9-minute short film that catches up with Basilio and company after the film. Quick and easy, it informs the viewers who wanted to know what's happened to our heroes.
Aside from five trailers, including one for this film, the remainder of the extras are text pieces, including "About the Film," "Human Rights Watch," "Help the Children" and an "ILO Study Guard," which is available as a PDF from the DVD-Rom. Interesting to those curious about how to help, these bits will fall on the deaf ears of many viewers.
The Bottom Line
The Devil's Miner is an interesting and well-produced documentary about a subject most viewers will not know about. As such, it must be viewed as a success, though some will find the material a bit light and unsatisfying in the end. The DVD looks quite nice, with good sound, and the disc provides a few bonuses that help expand upon the topics explored. People interested in the lives of the unfortunate and the societies that foster them will be highly interested in checking this movie out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.