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Keith Schofield

Golden Ruin

Posted from: Gold mine - Garimpo do Juna
The last day at the mine. Confused with the ritual of searching for right and wrong. Sometimes, simple observation is not enough. We have been here to find the stories of the people who exist in this random squalor - and find out what drives them to the goal of riches while surviving on a fiver a day. When first we saw the main mining area of Grota Rica it was shocking.

It shocked me to the core. It reminded me of the old news films and photographs of the Somme. Mud as far as the eye could see and running through it a tiny brown stream of what was once a majestic and beautiful river. Giant trees ripped up and lying bare with naked branches outstretched. Others burned in huge fires. The decimation was as complete as it was awesome.

Huge holes pockmarked the whole area - discarded ladders a testament of what had gone before during the gold rush of three years ago. The gold rush when gold was removed by the kilo. Now it is removed as tiny sand-like grains and the occasional miserable nugget. Now of course the devastation is out of proportion to how it was. Tons of Amazonian earth are poured down an already choked and destroyed river for the return of a few grams of gold. And yet the drive is still there.

Gold dust
Tiny sand-like grains of gold dust

The people we met and filmed were wonderful and intelligent human beings. We played pool with them in noisy bars and had an amazingly sociable time. They all believe that the big find is just around the corner. They live in tiny wooden shacks, living rough in a strong and sociable community - until the big find. Bruce lived with a team of tunnellers who had already gone about 100m into the side of a mountain.

It had taken them six months to get this far - and they lived on the belief that a huge seam would be found and that God was guiding them. Each one of the team led by a gentle man called Milton was utterly convinced that the seam was only days away. I really hope they do find it. The tenacity of their spirit was gold dust itself. Driven by a belief.

We met several other people who in a way also inspired me. Russia, our 'landlady', had several businesses running - including running a freshwater supply to the 'town', being the pharmacist and having a share in her own gold dig. She would carry on regardless until the aim was met and in the meantime - as is her right, along with all the others - live her life as well and as decently as she could.

The niggling thing for me, of course, is what cost is all this to the environment? The devastation of this area is complete. The river is dead. The trees might grow again in 50 years or so. How the balance is achieved is beyond my simple scope - but right now I'm really not a big fan of gold. What it is and what it does is obvious but when one considers the massive plundering of this area over centuries by other countries, and the huge scale of devastation that occurred - what effect has this tiny little pinprick of a mine full of Brazilians digging for a miniscule amount of Brazilian gold?

Bruce surveys the mine

I look at once-magnificent ripped up trees with skeletal branches and a dead river and I am ashamed at the greed of the human being - and at the same time cannot help but admire that spirit which drives it.

Raquel and I had a crazy conversation with a gentle old lady in a bar with three men and two of her friends. We were discussing The Brazilian Way with relationships. She said that it is the birthright of every Brazilian man to seduce as many women as he likes - whether he is married or not. She was being absolutely serious. She herself was married twice - her current husband is 68. He has affairs all the time. The women all nodded in agreement. This is the way. A man was shot during our stay. He disrespected another man's wife. I left her bar and the mine more confused than on any film I've ever worked on about Brazilian ethics and her environment. I am in no position to judge anything. I hope Bruce through this film will make you think. If anyone can, he will.

Bruce makes friends with a miner's child

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