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'The Devil's Miner'

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The Devil's Miner
Directed by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani
First Run, opens March 17, Cinema Village
Few things can shake the timbers of liberal complacency like observing how third world citizens manage to support themselves in a New (or old) World Order. In this video documentary, we visit Cerro Rico, a massive Bolivian mountain whose hundreds of dying silver mines—dating back to the 16th century, when Spaniards enslaved the natives to extract ore—are still being drilled by desperate villagers, many of them children. Contrasting the magnificent mountainscapes outside with the claustrophobic hellishness inside, the filmmakers focus on one 14-year-old boy, his cheek stuffed with coca leaves, his day divided between school and subterranean darkness. He's our guide into this centuries-old mutant- Christian culture, in which Jesus belongs to the outside world and the mines belong to the Devil, every mine coming equipped with an ancient horned-deity shrine, to which alms must be paid for safety's sake. Perhaps little more than an object lesson in the end, the movie's nevertheless a sobering day trip, more for its hints of a forgotten history of culture collision than its sensible but rote socioeconomic sympathies.
 
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