To hear Earth’s Golden Playground tell it, the true mother lode has yet to be struck. The reality may be much less promising than that fanciful notion, but Andreas Horvath’s vérité documentary on workaday gold miners in the remote Yukon remains cautiously optimistic.
The rugged setting is well served by Horvath’s no-frills approach — muted beauty like this doesn’t require much ornamentation. The same goes for his salt-of-the-earth subjects, whom the filmmaker allows to relate their own stories of hardship and perseverance without injecting himself into the telling: There’s no voiceover and, save for a few scene-setting notes at the beginning and end, virtually no intertitles.
“They haven’t given up all their secrets yet,” one man says of the mountains he believes still contain vast riches; it’s easy to go along with such romantic ideas when taking in the awe-inspiring Klondike gold fields. Still, this isn’t as exciting to watch in its moment-to-moment drift as Horvath’s long sequences presuppose, though there is a rhythmic quality to the more process-heavy segments reminiscent of something Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (Leviathan, Manakamana) might produce.
We get a genuine sense of the lifestyle and all its attendant struggle, which Earth’s Golden Playground reinforces through repetition. The pacing may sometimes feel glacial but, as with the gold we eventually see harvested, the payoff proves worth the effort.