‘Marmato’ delves into lives of Colombian miners
January 15, 2014
In Marmato, a small, little-known, 500-year-old mining town in Colombia, villagers were still mining using the same rudimentary techniques they had employed over 200 years ago. That is, until a Canadian mining company began to start coming in to the village and buying up mines.
The film’s director Mark Grieco had been traveling South America working as a photojournalist where his path eventually brought him to Potosí, the historic Bolivian silver mining city that was the source of the Spanish Empire’s wealth during their conquest.
"I was told you can bring coca leaves and cigarettes to these guys in the mines and you can go into the mine and see how they work," Grieco said. "I went there and I was just appalled at the situation. The disparity between the haves and have-nots – to me, this was the greatest example of that."
That was when Grieco decided he wanted to find a mining town that had not become a "relic of colonialism" and where raw materials were still being extracted by locals and the benefits stayed in the local economy. It took him a year to find just such a place.
In Marmato, Grieco said villagers were mining much as they had centuries ago, and there was no sign of any foreign company at work. However, with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe deciding to open up 44 percent of Colombia’s territory to mining concessions, that soon changed.
After discovering a Canadian mining company had wanted to buy up properties in Marmato, remove the people and build an open-pit mine, Grieco decided to move back to Colombia in 2008, where he has been since, documenting the villagers’ lives.
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As more companies came to Marmato to begin mining, Grieco said villagers lived through many broken promises – mines were bought up and barricaded, mills were destroyed. Over 800 miners were put out of work as a result.
In response, villagers mounted a resistance. They started breaking into the mines in an effort to support their families the only way they knew how. They became branded as "illegal miners" by the government.
"The government could seize their property, break into the mine and arrest them," Grieco said.
In speaking with residents, however, Grieco began to realize the issue was far more complex than, "These are the victims and these are the white guys from North America coming down to destroy the place."
Marmato itself was split — many residents were in favor of the mining companies coming in while the other half saw them as a threat to the community. After living there for six years and filming, Grieco said he began to be mistrusted by the locals.
"Every one of my characters quit on me," Grieco said. "People said I was a spy for the company, or the CIA, or the DEA. I was being threatened often."
Gaining the trust needed for the intimacy and honesty he needed from villagers was the most challenging aspect of making the film, Grieco said, but there was something else that kept him going.
"Every day working in Marmato, there were five good reasons to quit," Grieco said. "There was only one good reason to keep going and that was to prove those five reasons wrong."
"Marmato" is one of 16 films in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition category and will screen:
Friday, Jan. 17, at 9 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City
Saturday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 1, Park City
Sunday, Jan. 19, at noon at the Sundance Resort Screening Room, Sundance Resort
Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City
Thursday, Jan. 23, at 9 a.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Saturday, Jan. 25, at noon at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City