Dir. Marc Grieco
Scr. Grieco & Stuart Reid
Prd. Stuart Reid
Review By Greg Klymkiw
When you and your father and their fathers before them and when, in fact, 500 years of your ancestors have lived on one of the largest, richest mountains of gold in the world, the last thing you want are foreign investors, corporate pigs and a corrupt government decimating your homes and livelihood. This, however, has been the reality suffered by the people who do most of the living and working and dying in Marmato, Colombia.
Mamarto is the result of six long years of following the plight of miners and independent mine owners in a Land of Oz that encircles their homes like a veritable Yellow-brick Road. To say the film is an important documentary reflecting the exploitation of the poor by the very rich is an understatement.
For me, as a Canadian, it's especially shameful since some of the biggest scum-buckets screwing these people are Canadians - proving, one supposes, that America's seemingly benign neighbours to the north of the 49th Parallel are just as happy as Uncle Sam to shove burning metal rods up the cumulative sphincters of the disenfranchised. The only difference is that Canadians sound more polite as they engage in their proverbial anal rape and, we suspect, have something resembling an education.
That all said, I do take considerable pride in the fact that it took a young Canadian, Stuart Reid, to co-write and produce this film with the brilliant director-cinematographer-editor Mark Grieco and, not-so surprisingly, without any official investment dollars from any Canadian Government Agencies, especially since one of the final nails in the coffins of the beleaguered Colombians was hammered by an official Canadian Government Agency (CIDA) under the rule of Canada's Totalitarian Dictator, Prime Minister Stephen "Il Duce" Harper.
This movie has to be seen to be believed, but let me try to describe what you're in for.
The film astutely takes considerable pains to lay out the individuals in Marmato, their families, their homes, their culture and the dangerous back-breaking work they engage themselves in. Placing an intimate human face to workers and their culture against the factual backdrop of how much money their hometown brings in. As the poor keep filling the bottomless pockets of corporate pigs who've purchased huge swaths of the mountain the people live on, is the very thing that places us firmly on their side. However, it's important to note that Grieco and his creative team (including ace co-editor Ricardo Acosta), keep the story chugging along on an even keel and allow the people and events to speak for themselves. This allows viewers with a heart to make the obvious choice in terms of whom they will side with. (The rest can go to Hell, which is where they're headed to serve their cloven-hoofed Master.)
The independent mine owners have long held out being swallowed up by corporations unwilling to pay a fair price for the mines while the mine workers themselves view their work as linked inextricably to where they live. The filmmakers allow us to understand that Marmato is more than a place to work - it is a home, a real home and one so gorgeous that it's impossible to imagine why any of these people would want to live anywhere else.
Though many of the physical houses and buildings on the land show considerable wear and tear and the kind of decay that normally would come from living on a mountain with the seismic shifts inherent in such a location, we get the sense that much of this has more to do with abject poverty rather than the ongoing threat of geological disaster.
As the aforementioned Canadians descend upon Marmato with the blessing of the Colombian Government, one wonders how meagre the bribe payments might actually have been, if such a thing actually - ahem - occurred. The Canucks essentially want to destroy the mountain and build a humungous pit from which to do the mining. As for little details like where the actual town of Marmato and its citizenry go, there's a whole lot of Beaver-and-Maple-Syrup-breath expended by the Canadians upon how they'll be creating a whole new and exciting life for these people. Whether the people of Marmato would be more than adequately compensated for being completely uprooted is another story altogether.
The scumbag Colombian Corporation that owns a whack of the mountain are typical of their ilk. There's one horrendous sequence involving a huge party thrown by the corp. to celebrate the first day of school for Marmato's future: THE CHILDREN! The hot babe CEO announces that her company is generously donating school supplies to every child and it's quite an impressive whack of stuff - really nice backpacks full of coloured pencils, readers, rulers and notebooks, among a myriad of other things. Here's the rub - most of the parents have already bought supplies for their kids, all the school supplies are identical and emblazoned with the corporation's logo (no individuality needed, thank you) and the hot babe CEO turns the whole affair into a sickening photo-op with her, the company logo and the children.
If that's not bile-inducing enough, this same company closes all the mines to force the will of the people and with the help of the Colombian government, bans the transport of mining materials into the town, especially dynamite. The government rules that any miners accessing the "company" property and/or exploding any dynamite (kind of necessary to mine pretty much anything) will be labeled a terrorist and arrested, then prosecuted as such. This extends even to private, independent mine owners.
Here. the filmmakers continue to bravely cover the resistance. This turns into an all-out battle between the people of Marmato and the government (or, take your pick, the corporate pigs). What transpires is as riveting and shocking as a Costa-Gavras incendiary political thriller. The difference, though, is that what we see is actually happening.
Yes, including armed soldiers.
I wish I didn't have to spoil things, so I won't completely, but I will say that even though battles are won, the "war" continues and I'm doubly ashamed to be a Canadian to admit that our government provided Colombia with the "mining guidelines" needed to further persecute and prosecute the good, hard-working people of Marmato.
Let this be a clarion call. Similar things are happening all over the world - including, perhaps, your backyard.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
Marmato plays at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto as part of the popular "Doc Soup" series.
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