Inside the Chilean miners' miracle at Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

Director Orlando Arraigada. Photos courtesy of Orlando Arraigada.

Chilean-born Montrael-based Orlando Arraigada came to Canada 20 years ago and has worked as a producer for 15 years. Beyond the Miracle is his first directorial effort and is participating at the 9th Vancouver Latin American Film Festival.

The unflinching documentary recounts the accident in the Chilean mine of San José in Copiapo (north of Chile) where 33 miners a.k.a. “los 33” were trapped 688 meters down, for 69 days last year, and their very successful rescue made news around the world changing their lives overnight given the constant exposure in the media, thus, becoming national heroes.

“[To me], the most important thing was the human side, to see how hard these people work to make a living, how they live and in very difficult situation," the charismatic director Orlando Arraigada said to the Vancouver Observer after the screening of his film last Friday.

Arraigada, like many Chileans, followed daily the news since the accident took place in the mine and felt compelled to shoot a documentary about it.

“I said to myself, ‘well, there's a lot of people that will be there filming … I will attack the phenomenon after they are rescued – if they do, (because)we didn’t know if they were going to get out.”

The filmmaker compiled a wealth of video and photo footage as well as interviewed to four of the miners and all those who were directly involved with the process.

Radio Canada invited the filmmaker to make live commentary in their Montreal studio on the ongoing broadcasting of the rescue, translating to French and telling them about the “Hispanic press’s point of view.”

“I was more convinced that I had to do the film. Then I spoke with the people of Radio Canada and said to them ‘look, you know what? We have to do something and quickly because there will be lots of people that will do (a film).”

Soon after Radio Canada decided to support the project and last November, Arraigada and his crew of four were filming in Chile.

The miners

With the help of a Chilean fixer, Arragaida started to study the miners to be featured in his film, those who could lend something unique, something “different”. From the 33, 15 miners were chosen and then it was narrowed to four: Ariel Ticona, crew leader Luis Urzúa, electrician Edison Peña and Bolivian miner Carlos Mamani.

For Arraigada, was important to include Mamani, the only non-Chilean miner as a reflection on the current immigration phenomenon in Chile and xenophobia toward Bolivians and Peruvians, often of native origin.

 “There’s a lot of Peruvian and Bolivian immigrants, and Chileans are profoundly racist (toward them). So I wanted to know how he lived in the interior and we saw that in a way, maybe it’s not too clear in the documentary, it ‘s something unsaid, but you can tell there is a difference.”

“His neighbourhood is extremely poor, so that says something about Chile’s reality, these days with some many immigrants,” Arraigada explained.

Even though there was some hesitation from the miners and no interest at first, soon after they opened up to the filmmaker (they were given $ 500 as an honorarium, two other miners were reportedly paid 20,000 dollars for exclusive interviews by German media a day after the rescue), Arragaida recounts.

“In the beginning, nobody was interested, but they found out I was Chilean, that I lived abroad ... the situation changed and they didn’t mention again anything about money. They said ‘yes, we will do it,’ and we gave them the 500 dollars as we agreed.”

On the 33’s current situation, they were given a life pension, but while some, like Mario Sepúlveda, have succeeded in owning a communication company and has an agent in the U.S., others some are unemployed and can’t find a job as they have been miners all their lives and don’t know what else to do.

The miners can not go back to work due to an ongoing investigation, although Arraigada estimates it could be due these days. The miners also have sued the government for millions of dollars for negligence as the mine had to be close due to safety issues.

“Chileans are very mad at them  (miners) because they say they are being ungrateful," he noted.

On his next project, Arraigada is working on a documentary in Venezuela about "the social phenomenon" on what it takes to become a Miss Venezuela -- including extensive plastic surgery. He later intends to come back to explore South American mines through a series of reports on the current conditions and Canadian companies exploiting them.

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