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Case Number 09459: Small Claims Court

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The Devil's Miner

First Run Features // 2005 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // June 15th, 2006

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All Rise...

After watching The Devil's Miner, Judge Brendan Babish can't help feeling guilty for complaining about his newspaper route as a teenager.

The Charge

The story of a child's survival.

The Case

If you're a parent of a layabout teenager, this is a film to watch with the family. After viewing The Devil's Miner I can almost guarantee junior will stop complaining about the injustices of cleaning his room or finishing his homework. And if he doesn't, perhaps you should consider swapping him for one of the brave, stoic child miners in Bolivia.

The Devil's Miner is a documentary of the day-to-day lives of two such miners: 14-year-old Basilio and his 12-year-old brother Bernardino. Both children work in the appallingly dangerous Bolivian mines, in shifts that can run up to 24 hours. Before every shift they pray to Tio, the god of miners, and munch on cocoa leaves to battle fatigue. The boys are well aware of the dangers of working in the mines (millions have been killed in Bolivian mine accidents), and detest the work, yet they have little choice. The boys do not have a father and what little money they make is necessary to support their mother and young sister. Additionally, the boys need the money to save for school clothing. Despite—or because of—their poverty, both children pursue their studies with a steadfast purpose. Displaying a keen perspective that is sadly absent in much of America's wayward youth, Basilio and Bernardino see education as their only way out of poverty.

Some will read of these boys and audibly sigh and pray that they are able to get out of the mines. These people are highly encouraged to watch this expertly made film. Anyone who tears up during Sally Struthers commercials will certainly be moved by The Devil's Miner. But what about those who, after having been exposed to tsunamis and suicide bombings and ruptured levees for the greater part of the past three years, suffer from a bit of tragedy fatigue? Should these people also seek out this DVD?

I want to say yes. Basilio and Bernardino are brave and inspiring young men. Though their lives are nearly as hard as anyone else on the planet, never once do they exhibit despair or self-pity. The film also does a commendable job documenting their lives in and outside the mine. The boys are shown shopping, attending church, in the classroom at school and participating in a parade during their town's carnival. This not only helps us fully understand the lives of these boys, but also keep the movie from degenerating into manipulative bathos.

Still, The Devil's Miner is not quite captivating enough to attract an audience beyond those who would be natural sympathizers with its subject matter. As affecting as the boys' story is, the film simply does not have enough dramatic grist to interest those who, as previously mentioned, have already received their fill of tragedy on the nightly news. The lives of Basilio and Bernardino are certainly hard, and these boys deserve commendation for their resilience, but the drudgery of their profession mars a film of this length. A truncated, 45-minute cut of The Devil's Miner might scrimp on some details, but would still adequately convey the hardships without anyone checking their watch one hour into the movie.

Still, this should only be taken as light criticism. As previously mentioned, The Devil's Miner is a well-made and enlightening film. The movie deserves a large audience, but I'm not optimistic it will resonate enough to reach anyone who is not already socially conscious.

The Devil's Miner almost exclusively uses natural sound, though there are sporadic snippets of Bolivian folk music. The sound on the DVD is adequate, considering the source is a low budget documentary, but it is a shame the music could not reach its potential with a Dolby 5.0 or DTS soundtrack. The video is equally adequate, considering the source, and shots taken deep inside Bolivian mines come out surprisingly clear. The most prominent bonus feature is "One Year Later," a short film documenting Basilio and Bernardino's lives 15 months after The Devil's Miner was filmed. I won't divulge their current condition, but this is a vital addendum to the feature film. I wouldn't be surprised if those who saw The Devil's Miners during its lengthy film festival run rent this DVD just to check in with these kids.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Short Film: "One Year Later"
• Photo Gallery
• Film Notes
• Study Guide


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• Official Site

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