Pits of hell: 'Devil's Miner' explores the mines of Bolivia and their notorious history of employing, and frequently causing the deaths of, children as young as 13.
Hope, Lucifer and Trans-Ethnic Identity
The Reel Work Film Festival creates a space for the labor movement to reflect on the past and gear up for the future
By Leah Bartos
Telemarketers in India, medical workers in Cuba, custodians and clerical workers at UC-Santa Cruz. Coffee growers, silver miners, poultry factory workers. Waiters, professional actresses, street vendors and beekeepers.
What do these people all have in common? They are all members of the working class and will be showcased at the sixth annual Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival, April 25- May 11. And although the festival is designed to illuminate the exploitative working conditions endured by countless workers across the globe, event organizers ultimately aim to provide a message of hope.
"We want to promote a sense that working people can organize and actually win," says Paul Ortiz, co-founder of the festival and UCSC professor of community studies. "It's not like they're always victims."
One such film, Ortiz says, is Morristown: In the Air and Sun, which ends with a union victory at a Tennessee poultry processing plant. The film, however, tackles issues larger than just this town. Filmmaker Anne Lewis spent eight years traveling between eastern Tennessee, interior Mexico and Ciudad Juarez to document the effects of globalization on working-class people on both sides of the border.
Centered on the issue of "factory flight," Morristown also displays an unexpected camaraderie between working-class people hailing from a range of racial backgrounds. The film will be screened at the Cabrillo College Watsonville Center on Friday, April 27.
Ortiz says that though Morristown could easily have been screened in Santa Cruz, it is particularly important to present the film's message of victory in the Watsonville venue. "I think it's important to have those films in Watsonville because Watsonville has a very proud labor history," Ortiz says.
Other films, however, may prove less uplifting. The Devil's Miner follows the lives of brothers Basilio, age 14, and Bernardino, age 12, who work in the Bolivian silver mines to support their family. The pair is determined to work hard in the mines in hopes of eventually getting an education. Since the Spanish colonial period, silver, gold and tin mines have claimed the lives of between 5 million and 8 million primarily indigenous workers in Bolivia. The miners have interpreted this to be the work of the devil and decide they must make offerings to him to ensure their safety and financial success. In the film, Basilio explains, "Only if the devil is generous he will give us a good vein of silver and let us exit alive." Sheila Payne, co-founder of Reel Work, points out, "It's because they're afraid to die. They're hoping he [the devil] will take mercy on them," Payne says. "We had a lot of film submissions but that one ... just blew me away."
This year, Reel Work received more than 100 film submissions for the festival, with filmmakers ranging in talent and professional experience. The event's organizers, however, made sure to leave room for student film as well. UCSC undergraduates will host one full night of the festival at Kresge College on Wednesday, May 2, screening Steve Fletcher's account of an NYU graduate student strike from 2005 among other student-made films. Graduate students will take the lead on the following Wednesday, May 9, in a program titled "Media for Social Justice." The evening will feature the works-in-progress of student film and photography, focusing on workers' struggles from Santa Cruz, Oaxaca, the Philippines and other locations.
This year's Reel Work festival will include other nonfilm events, including historian Archie Green's unveiling and performance of the songs in The Big Red Songbook. Green, one of the book's editors, helped compile a complete collection of the songs that had originally appeared in the 39 editions of the little red songbooks, which were published by the radical labor union Industrial Worker's of the World, from 1909 to 1973. This performance will be on International Worker's Day, or May Day, at the Vets Hall. In fact, Ortiz explains, International Worker's Day, a celebration of worker's rights and labor movements around the world, was the primary inspiration for the Reel Work Film Festival.
"We have a proud history of struggle in this country--and not only in this country, but in this hemisphere and in the world. We use the films in part to inspire ourselves and our audiences that we can change things," Ortiz says. "The social change effect is not immediate, but it can lead to a rethinking of some of these basic things we take for granted."
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