Article - Ottawa Citizen

Article in Ottawa Citizen

Film fest documents fights for social justice

Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The people of Junin, a tiny village in northeastern Ecuador, are a remarkable bunch.

Toronto filmmaker Malcolm Rogge calls them “humble, witty and courageous” and all three qualities emerge from his new documentary Under Rich Earth, which opens the 19th annual One World Film Festival at the National Library this evening.

Under Rich Earth is about Junin and other remote Intag valley communities battling a Canadian-U.S. copper mining company called Ascendant Copper. The corporate invaders, as locals see them, want to mine in the lush valley and the villagers are determined to stop them.

Rogge’s film, which premiered as an official selection at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, records clashes between community and corporate interests — coffee and sugar cane farmers determined to protect their land from what they fear will be environmental ruin.

Rogge, who shot his documentary during three separate visits to the region, fleshes out his own work with some powerful footage captured by a visiting German aid worker.

This is a complex story with all manner of unspoken social and political undercurrents that probably only the locals themselves fully understand. But on another, more simple level, it could work as the plot of a classic Hollywood-style David-versus-Goliath movie.

The film builds to a couple of dramatic confrontations between villagers and a group of armed, ex-army paramilitaries who arrive at the entrance to the village and proceed to pepper spray the villagers who try to stop them. The German aid worker captures the scene and later follows villagers deep into the mountains where the paramilitaries have set up camp, ostensibly to lay the groundwork for mine exploration.

The outnumbered paramilitaries take the path of least resistance, hand over their weapons and submit to questioning. Their answers, however, are less than convincing and although some pro-mining interests paid their wages and sent them to the valley to intimidate the locals, we can only guess who the paymaster was. At the film’s most remarkable point, the unarmed villagers “arrest” the armed interlopers, haul them back to their village and lock them in the village church with a lock that any determined shoulder could snap.

Civilian authorities eventually arrive in Junin to suspend the mining project and release the prisoners. In Hollywood’s hands, some kind of bloody interlude would have occurred but in real life the whole affair is settled in a civilized manner.

Rogge will be at tonight’s screening to discuss his film.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

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