Cristián Harbaruk likes to say that he did not choose to make They Come for the Gold, They Come for it All, instead, the movie chose him. The director and his crew arrived in the Argentinean town of Esquel just in time for a referendum on whether or not to allow a Canadian mining company to extract gold from the area.
Harbaruk’s crew had been filming an adventure television show, and had all the equipment to make a documentary. “It would have been more difficult not to tell this story,” he said.
The possible impact of mining in Esquel was new to everyone. “We began to learn at the same time as the people what it was about,” revealed Harbaruk. The process involves using explosives to break up the mountain rocks, as well as cyanide to separate the gold. They Come for the Gold explores the reactions of people of all classes and opinions in a very poor town that cares deeply about its environment.
In the film, villagers seem to know little about the issue when confronted with a petition.
“I don’t know what to think,” admitted a young girl in a poor neighborhood. Her mother signed the petition; according to her, health is more important than anything. An unemployed man replied that he didn’t know much about the cyanide used in the extraction process. “Many of us don’t know, but we all want to work,” he stated.
Harbaruk affirmed that mining companies in Argentina have almost everything they need to start projects all over the country. “What they don’t have is the social agreement; they have all the rest.”
In 1993, the Argentinean government opened up the industry by establishing incentives and tax benefits for foreign mining companies. According to the Argentinean Mining Secretariat, in 2008 the mining industry attracted about $2.3 billion US in investments, a 1,000 per cent increase from 2003.
They Come for the Gold finds opponents of the mine getting more and more radical to have their voices heard. During the town’s anniversary, the mayor waves and smiles to a crowd whose rallying cries of “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!” are paused only long enough for the Argentinean flag to be hoisted up the pole. Flavio, a doctor interviewed during the film, stated that the referendum turned into a battle: “You’re left with no other choice but going out on the street and getting fanatical at some point, in some way.”
Harbaruk said the movie is having an impact in places where new mining projects are starting, such as Costa Rica. Most importantly, he wants viewers to leave the film with “the precious idea that everyone is able to choose their future.”
This review was originally published at The Concordian on October 12, 2010.
For more information on Canadian mining companies and their dirty business abroad, visit Mining Watch Canada.