zondag 10 augustus 2014

Delco native's film of Colombian gold mining goes worldwide

Delco native's film of Colombian gold mining goes worldwide

10-08-2014  By Kathleen Carey, Delaware County Daily Times (USA)

What began as a trip to a Bolivian gold mine nine years took Middletown native Mark Grieco on a six-year journey in a Colombian mountain town as he captured the struggle among the local miners, the government and a multi-national company on a film that showed at the Sundance Film Festival and he hopes becomes a catalyst for change.

Marmato is the hour and a half documentary that begins when Canadian-based Gran Colombia Gold enters the town in a period when Colombia is inviting foreign investment to help develop the country. The company wants to remove the 8,000 residents to begin an open-pit mining project to extract the $20 billion-worth of gold in the mountain.

Mining in Marmato has deep roots as the miners use traditional methods to remove the resource that has been mined from this mountain for five centuries.

“Is it progress?” the 34-year-old 1998 Penncrest graduate asked. “What are the stakes of progress? I think we’re all living through that. We’re all kind of living through economic turmoil at this point. Change is a constant. What’s the best way for our world to move forward and what’s the cost of that?”

Marmato showed at Sundance in January and won the Candescent Award. It has been seen at other festivals, including the Cartagena Film Festival, and Grieco is taking it to Peru this week, to Korea at the end of the month, to Canada in September and has applied to the Philadelphia Film Festival.
After taking a summer film program at NYU, Grieco started saving money for a film but asked himself, “How can I shoot a film if I don’t know anything about the world?”

So, he started traveling with the intention to do a photographic book. First, he went to Europe, then Egypt, but the lure of South America called.
“I have this incredible interest about our neighbor,” Grieco said. “We know more about where we conduct war than what’s in our backyard.”

In 2005, after about six months of visiting countries, he found himself at a silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia, where tourists would give the miners a handful of cocoa leaves and cigarettes in exchange for a photograph.

“I couldn’t even take photographs,” he said. “I sat with the miners and started talking to them. I realized that the mining as the history, the present and the future defines Latin America in so many ways and defines why there is so much inequality and so much interest from foreign countries.”

From there, he decided he wanted to find a town that wasn’t owned by a foreign company, that was extracting the resource and keeping it in the local economy. A year later, he found Marmato, Colombia - a week later, a Canadian company came and started buying the mines.


“I arrived with a pretty fixed perspective of what this film was going to be,” he said. “It was my own misunderstanding of how complicated this situation was. Immediately, I started to look for polar ends. Really, the story was somewhere in between. In a way, I was growing up. I was trying to understand how the world works. It’s not black and white. It’s really this gray zone and that’s where things change for the good and the bad.”

Initially, Grieco did a photographic study in Marmato, then returned to the States to work to buy a camera to film.

When he had it, he returned to Colombia, where he spent six years documenting the stories of his characters from the miners such as Jose Dumar, who’s worked in the mines most of his life to provide for his wife and children; the private mine owner, Conrado, who welcomes foreign investment and sees that as a way to give a better future to his family; and Lawrence Perkes, the Canadian drill contractor who’s spent decades in developing countries on similar projects.

Grieco explained the deep pride for these miners in what they do.
“They live in a country that’s still in a 50-year-old internal conflict,” he said. “There’s very few places in the country that are not touched by that...In ways, Marmato is this oasis away from that. Everyone has a job in town and it’s all linked to mining. It’s a symbolic expression of their culture. It’s a 500-year-old town. It’s not only linked to putting food on the plate. This very thing is at risk. It’s not so much about them getting forcibly removed from where they live. It’s how they identify themselves in the world that’s going to be changed.”

He also represented the company’s viewpoint and found a frank discussion through Perkes.
“I don’t identify them as the evildoer in this thing,” Grieco said. “It’s more complicated than that. It’s just their reality and the way that they see things. It’s a necessary part of the conversation.”

He described Perkes.
“Here’s a guy who works for a company,” Grieco said. “He’s going to speak so frankly about the operation itself and his place within it.”
He said some of the locals then started to think Grieco was collecting intelligence for the company as he interviewed Perkes and he had to work to regain their trust.
That was only one of the moments of challenge. Besides the inherent risks of going into the mines themselves, the situation began to turn violent as the company fired the workers, the government sent military to the town and there were no other sources of income in or near the town.

Working by himself without a crew on his premier film, Grieco had his own self doubts.
“I think there were moments like that every day,” he said. “Am I completely delusional? I don’t know what I’m doing. There were moments that my life was in danger and it was difficult.”

However, he remained committed to his cause.
“I wanted to tell this story more than anything,” Grieco said. “I wanted to tell this story of what these people were going through.”

As the filming process ended, he found out it had been accepted to Sundance.
“I had no expectations really,” Grieco said. “That’s an incredible experience, especially for a first-time filmmaker. This has gone beyond any of my expectations.”

Currently, the film is showing in the Ambulante Colombia film festival as Grieco plans to show it elsewhere. The people of Marmato saw it for the first time last week.

“The most important thing was I had people who were elderly people in the town all the way down to teenagers saying, ‘I never understood what was actually going on in my town and what the future was going to be and your film helped me to understand that and now, I’m going to do something about it,’” Grieco said.

It’s a conversation about global and economic development, with all parties engaging, that the filmmaker hopes to encourage.

“In Colombia, in these communities, they are the last people to be given a voice in the dialogue,” Grieco said. “This is what I think is a necessary part of having beneficial change. It’s not just political figures or people with capital power in the sector of mining. The real people who everybody should be listening to are the people who are going to be affected by it.”

More information about the film is available at marmatomovie.com or on the Facebook page of the same name.

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