The Devil's Miner

Portrays Bolivian children fated to work in silver mines to earn enough money for school

Film to premiere on PBS's Independent Lens, the Emmy Award-winning series hosted by Edie Falco on Tuesday, May 23, 2006, at 10pm (Check local listings)

Visit the program companion website 

"An unforgettable journey through hell under the earth, where Satan is worshipped as king... exceptionally beautiful." --Variety

(San Francisco)--THE DEVIL'S MINER is the moving story of 14 year-old Basilio Vargas and his 12 year-old brother Bernardino as they work in the Bolivian silver mines of Cerro Rico, an underground inferno called "the mine that eats men." Over the centuries, it is believed that over eight million workers have perished in the mines. Through the boys' eyes, we encounter the world of devout Catholic miners who sever their ties with God upon entering the mountain, as part of an ancient belief that "Tio," the devil, represented by hundreds of statues constructed in the tunnels, determines the fate of the miners. THE DEVIL'S MINER will be broadcast on Independent Lens, hosted by Edie Falco, on Tuesday, May 23 at 10pm (check local listings). 

Raised without a father and living in virtual poverty with their mother on the slopes of the mine, the boys assume many adult responsibilities and dangers to provide for their family. They must work to afford the clothing and supplies vital to their education. Basilio believes only the generosity of the devil within the mountain will provide enough security to allow him to earn enough money to continue through the school year. Without an education, the brothers have no chance to escape their destiny in the silver mines. 

The history of Cerro Rico goes back to the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors invaded the South American highlands and discovered a cone-shaped mountain that contained a treasure so valuable it financed the Spanish wars for centuries. But the splendors of the silver were paid for in human misery, as the Spanish enslaved the local "Indios," forcing them to dig for minerals under inhumane conditions. Today, 9,000 miners continue the job daily with primitive means of protection and equipment. At an average altitude of 15,000 feet, breathing is labored, fatal accidents are frequent and most miners fall victim to the black lung disease by age forty. 

Working in a maze of over 20,000 tunnels, the miners make it their mission to find any remaining valuable minerals overlooked during the Spanish rule. Many families participate in the infinite search, with hundreds of children working inside the mountain. 

THE DEVIL'S MINER was filmed entirely in Potosi, Bolivia. The film is an Urban Landscapes Film Production in association with Provobis Film, Polar Star Films, Latino Public Broadcasting, TVE and ATE/BR. The companion website for THE DEVIL'S MINER ( features detailed information on the film and an interview with the filmmaker as well as links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film and more. 

DEVIL'S MINER Participants 
Basilio Vargas 
In the absence of his father, Basilio assumes the paternal role in the Vargas household. His daily struggle to earn money for food and school supplies includes four years working as a junior driller and an apprentice miner inside the mountain of Cerro Rico. Basilio's top priority is protecting his younger brother Bernardino from accidents in the tunnels. Outside the mine, Basilio loves to play footsal, a local variation of soccer. 

Bernardino Vargas 
Bernardino has spent his last two years in the mines as an apprentice miner, learning everything from his older brother Basilio. His biggest fear is working alone in the mountain. In school his favorite subject is music and each year he looks forward to the celebration of Carnival with his family. 

Vanessa Vargas 
Vanessa, the youngest child in the family, keeps her mother company guarding the mine entrance. She loves playing with her older brothers when they return from the mines. 

Manuela Altica Vargas (Mother) 
Manuela Vargas is a widow and works as the guardian to the entrance of the La Cumbre Mine. With no formal education, her meager salary is not enough to maintain her family and so she reluctantly allows Basilio and Bernardino to work. Her constant prayer is that they will one day be able to leave the mountain and move to the city. Manuela speaks Ketchua, her native language. 

Saturnino Ortega 
Saturnino, a miner for 27 years, overseas the day-to-day operations of the La Cumbre Mine where the Vargas family lives and works. He is responsible for the safety of Basilio and Bernardino. Hoping to find a new vein of silver, he honors the devil in a weekly ceremony called the Challa.

 Father Jesús 
Father Jesús leads the congregation of Catholic priests in Potosi. He supports the miners by preaching God's love and acceptance. He continually urges the miners not to abandon their souls to the devil of the mountain.

Posted on April 4, 2006