Castillo vs. Barrick: Carmen Castillo's latest proves provocative

A slow weep of violins accompanies the sad dragging pan across treeless dirt-brown mountains in great harmony in the opening scenes of director Carmen Castillo’s Tesoro de América: El Oro de Pascua Lama. This foreboding Les Miserables-style symphony doesn't leave much interpretive wiggle room: bad things are happening…

El Tesoro de América: El oro de Pascua Lama
El Tesoro de América: El oro de Pascua Lama

Castillo’s latest documentary investigates the mining industry's controversial plans to construct a city-sized gold mine in the Huasco valley (located in the Atacama region). Her investigations take her into a village, in an agricultural region dependent on the the Huasco River and below the future site of the mine. According to Castillo, mines are known for their occasional accidental pollution.

Carmen Castillo's investigation reaches out to a friend:<br/> a native of northern Chile.
Carmen Castillo's investigation reaches out to a friend:
a native of northern Chile.

The opening monologue comes from a man who has lost all that he’d loved about his town. Multiple images show the desolate remains of what used to be a flourishing agricultural valley, while his voice accuses the mining company for its destruction. His testimony ends on a solemn note before cutting to the valley under siege…

In Huasco, a dusky glow hangs in the orchards as farmers are interviewed while they work their fruitful land. Most denounce the mine's presence and all fear it. The viewer is reminded that this valley has belonged to farmers for generations. Castillo's camera shows that their message is lucid, consistent and justified. Water flows across the screen and through their crops, twinkling as it sinks into the fertile ground. Children accompany their farming parents, watching their supposed future. In painting these peaceful scenes Castillo floods us with a feeling of anticipation: the calm before the storm.

The storm hits hard. Castillo doesn’t merely do a good job illustrating the threat and frustration imbedded in the hearts of those who fear the mine, she excels. It is impossible to not identify them as victims - unthinkable to disagree with them.

Locals in Huasco protest Barrick Gold Corporation's mine.
Locals in Huasco protest Barrick Gold Corporation's mine.

So who doesn’t think they’re victims? Who does disagree with them? Cue Barrick Gold Corporation, the gold mining company that plans to mine the gold and move the river.

As a responsible PR-conscious corporation, they opened up for interviews…and took a beating. During these interviews, Castillo’s opinion does not remain deep in the shadows, maintaining objectivity.

Severely critical editing lends an ingenuous, almost ridiculous, tone to the interviews conducted with Barrick’s founder and a Barrick representative. The continuous juxtaposition of their interviews, and other evidence, begins to feel like a bash fest.

A train transports raw materials in the Atacama region of Chile
A train transports raw materials in the Atacama region of Chile

Aside from the heavy handed editing, Castillo’s diverse collection of interviews and clever variety of backgrounds, angles and situations, win out. Her skill lends an 'in-the-moment' tone to what would normally be treated as a talking-head situation.

Extended panoramas and strategically composed shots provide an aesthetic touch to a dry, somewhat somber, subject. Through her directive talent, the documentary is transformed from an archive of organized facts to a present, ongoing and newsworthy situation. Regardless of her (slightly obvious) opinion, the problem and its main sources are made relevant.

The film doesn’t just paint a sob story of people losing their livelihood. It reaches much deeper: into the offices of scientists, the homes of former big time politicos and corporate tax specialists, who all opened up with provocative information. All components of the possible future effects of Barrick Gold Corporation’s presence are identified. The mine is no longer a localized problem, but resonates as a provocative impression of the complexity of the Chilean economy and its natural resources.

All things considered, El Tesoro de America: El Oro de Pascua Lama as a film should not be ignored, nor should its contents. It’s a learning experience organically rooted in the heart and culture of Chile. Although Castillo’s approach is subjective in tone, it is thorough and in tune with the people.

El Tesoro de America: El oro de Pascua Lama is no longer in theaters, but it is available at kiosks around downtown Santiago.

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