This is a film that, once seen, is almost impossible to forget. With its striking images of mountains and sky contrasted to claustrophobic mine shafts, The Devil's Miner tells us that 800 children work shoulder-to-shoulder with dark-faced men (life expectancy: 35 to 40) in the silver mines of Cerro Rico, Bolivia. With a minimum of editorializing, filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani take us on a journey through hell under the earth, where God does not set foot and where Satan is worshipped as king. Basilio Vargas, the 14-year-old hero, is called Papa by his younger siblings because he is the family's breadwinner. He was a fatherless 12-year-old when he started working in what the Indios call "the mountains that eat men." His classmates at school insult him for working in the mines, but he toughs it out because he knows getting an education is the only way to get out of hell. The mines are literally an inferno: a world of fear at 95 degrees Fahrenheit, dynamite explosions, wagons without brakes, 24-hour shifts. Basilio gnaws on coca leaves to kill his hunger and makes $2.50 to $4 a day. The film's key image, however, is the devil himself, whom the miners worship as "the Tio." Frightening, red-eyed devil idols the size of a man are a feature in each mine. The little boys learn to worship the Tio, because they instinctively feel that only the devil, propitiated with coca leaves, can save them from death. The film leaves a lot to think about, above all a feeling of outrage at the fate of these children.
Kief Davidson began his filmmaking career in 1993 as editor on the Academy Award®-nominated documentary Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. A recipient of two Emmy® nominations he also earned an International Monitor Award for Best Editing. In 1997, Davidson wrote and directed the comedy Minor Details, an independent feature film starring Peter Sarsgaard. Since then, he has directed and produced documentaries for The Discovery Channel, ABC News, PBS, and A&E. RICHARD LADKANI'S award-winning skills as director and cameraman have produced documentaries that have earned him 15 international awards. As a cinematographer, his historical character-driven documentaries have been shot on location in places like Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Mongolia. A 20-part series titled Monasteries of the Danube River earned him the Austrian cinematography award for best picture. Ladkani prefers to be the cinematographer on the films he directs.