If Colombia is the focal point of the new global gold rush then Marmato, a mining town with over 500 years of history, is the new frontier. In its mountain there are $20 billion dollars in gold, but its 8,000 inhabitants are at risk of being displaced by an open-pit mining project. MARMATO chronicles how the townspeople confront a Canadian mining company that wants the gold beneath their homes.
Filmed over the course of 6 years, MARMATO is a canvas of magic realism and the confrontation with globalized mining.
José Dumar is a miner who has worked most of his life in the tunnels of Marmato to support his wife and five children. The dark, serpentine tunnels of the mines exemplify the buried truth of what may happen to the town. All light is provided by the miners’ headlamps and one on-camera light revealing the cramped, purgatorial world shrouded in black and shaded in red. Even in such harsh conditions, José Dumar and his team of miners are jovial and full of pride in their work. They work hard as they speak of their concerns about the takeover and their uncertain future. The miners love their way of life and want to preserve it.
Every day before leaving for work he blesses each of his children and kisses them goodbye knowing he risks not returning home. When the Canadian companies first arrived José Dumar had a comfortable life working in the Mayor’s mine. As the years passed the Mayor’s intentions to sell became clear, José Dumar was forced to leave and look for other work before it was too late. The company and the Colombian government continue to pressure the small miners in Marmato. Now, he works illegally in one of the company’s mines, has no secure income, and has become furious about the uncertainty this has created for his family’s well being. He is out of options and can only wait for a future that is out of his control.
Conrado, unlike the majority of the town’s population of peasant miners, owns a mine and a small farm and wants to sell it to Gran Colombia Gold–but only for the right price. He is the patriarch of the family and his decisions will resonate for their future. He believes the money from this sale will provide a better life for his family. He talks about negotiating with the company and how he would like to sell his mine, home, and small farm to move the entire family away from Marmato, which he believes will inevitably be destroyed. His wife Lucelly voices doubts about the family’s future and believes that Conrado will change once he receives the money. She loves Marmato and believes that selling their mine and home will mean an end to the peaceful and safe lives they’ve enjoyed in their town; something very rare in Colombia. Conrado believes foreign investment is good for Colombia regardless of its violent history and that more money is the key to a better life. He is part of an emerging population of Colombians who are receptive to foreign direct investment and attracted by the promises they make for the country. He is an anomaly in Latin America–a relatively poor campesino who welcomes North America.
His and Lucelly’s journey began on the decision on whether or not to sell, a situation that has deteriorated their marriage. While holding out for a better offer for his mine, Conrado was tragically and severely injured in a mining accident. He is now paralyzed on the life side of his body and can no longer work. The once formidable and energetic man is left bed-ridden as Lucelly must take control of the house and care for his every need. She now sees no future in Marmato, and desperately wants to sell their house, farm and mine to the Canadian mining company.
“They are going to take this whole mountain down. I have seen it before and it will happen here. This town is finished”, states Lawrence, a Canadian driller contracted by the Canadian mining company, as he gazes out over the valley below Marmato. He is a detached world citizen –a man who comes into a country and views it as a drill site, never being able to appreciate the values of the foreign culture. His career as a diamond driller has spanned 35 years and has brought him to many developing nations including Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Chile. After spending several months in Marmato, Lawrence begins to feel a fondness for the locals that he has never experienced before.
He receives news that he is to be shipped off to another country, so he seeks out the opportunity to speak directly with miners and warn them of the apocalyptic fate destined for Marmato. In a climactic moment, he climbs into the mine and sits down with José Dumar to reveal something he’s never said to a local. It is a powerful moment for Lawrence as he feels for the first time what it must be like to be displaced and to have no control over your future.
Johann Bolaños eloquently connects his existence – an Afro-Colombian miner with barely a high school degree – to the aggressive development that follows the global resource rush. Raised solely by his mother, he has lived a hard life, but one that was only possible by virtue of being raised in Marmato. His love for his town exceeds the benefits of its tremendous gold resource; a love for the value of its culture, history and people–the very things that helped him and his mother survive. He is the voice of resistance and fights for the future of those intangible qualities of Marmato that are now necessary for those dependent on him–his newborn daughter and his aging, ill mother.
As his mother needs more of his care, he must choose between taking the risk of defending his town or stay by her side and care for in her final days. His wife just gave birth to a new baby girl and he is now managing his own successful mill. Every day he is hungrier to be wealthier and support his young family – giving up the fight for Marmato along the way.
Luis Gonzaga is the town’s local folk musician. He is the classic troubadour - expressing the folk consciousness of the town during a time of uncertainty and division. Over 15 years ago he had a premonition that Marmato was going to end and his songs reflect the collective fear and schizophrenia of the town now that this Canadian mining company has, in many ways, made his premonition a reality. The film will present Luis Gonzaga as the narrator. His songs’ lyrics will contextualize the arc of the story and the events that have happened during the course of filming.
He is our compass for chronology and explanation for what is happening and why. This will be a new take on the documentary narration – an expansion of the film’s voice that will draw all the varying opinions and characters into a single lyrical vision. Luis adds a unique, cultural texture to the style and originality of MARMATO.