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“Devil’s Miner” wins Estonian People’s Award at Pärnu

“Devil’s Miner” wins Estonian People’s Award at Pärnu
Best Film prize goes to “Before Flying Back to Earth”

The Devil’s Miner, directed by Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson, beat off stiff competition from seven other entrants to win top prize at Estonia’s Pärnu International Documentary Film Festival last night (July 16,2006).
The 20th edition of the festival, which is held in the country’s delightful summer capital some 130 kilometres south of the administrative capital Tallinn, attracted entries from Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the UK and Finland.
But it was Germany’s Devil’s Miner which most impressed the people of Estonia. The film tells the story of 14-year-old Basilio Vargas and his 12-year-old brother Bernardino, as they work in the Bolivian silver mines of Cerro Rico.
Through the children's eyes, audiences encounter the world of devout Catholic miners who sever their ties with God upon starting work in the mountain. It is their belief that the devil, as represented by hundreds of statues constructed in the tunnels, determines the fate of all who work there.
Raised without a father and living in poverty with their mother on the slopes of the
mine, the boys must work to afford the clothing and materials they need to go to school. Basilio believes only the mountain devil’s generosity will allow them to earn enough money to get the education they need if they are ever to escape from the appalling circumstances in which they find themselves.
Accepting the coveted Estonian People’s Award, Richard Ladkani reported that because of the film, the European Union has made available a grant of one million Euros to help get some 450 children out of the killer mines.
“It just goes to prove that documentaries can help to change the world, just a little bit,” Ladkani added.
The Devil’s Miner and the seven other international films were screened not only on the big screens of the two main venues during the course of the 14-day festival in Pärnu, but were also shown on Estonian Television.
As in previous years, TV viewers were invited to vote by telephone or by internet.

Grand Prix
The prize for the best film of the festival went to Arunas Matelis for Before Flying Back to Earth. The film shows how life in a hospital ward for children suffering from leukemia can be full of joy, chatter and games. The film shows how the children manage to go about their lives, in many cases in the absence of any realistic hope of recovery.
After spending eight months at the hospital in Vilnius (Lithuania) where his daughter was successfully treated for leukemia, Matelis returned to the ward to make this 52-minute film, his eighth production but his first full-length documentary.
One of the jurors described the film to as “uplifting and moving without being sentimental”.
Other films competing in the international competition were Circumcision in Transition (Japan), Gatos (Israel), In search of the Hamat’Sa (USA), Kiran Over Mongolia (USA), Monologues (Belarus), The Shutka Book of Records (Serbia), Tailor-Made Dreams (Germany), Twelve Months (Sweden), and Under the Open Sky (Russia).
The international jury was chaired by Asen Balikci (Bulgaria), Mart Meri (Estonia), Edward Lucie-Smith (UK), Jaak Lohmus (Estonia) and Harry Livrand (Estonia).

Docs for Kids
Perhaps the most moving and uplifting out of a total of some 130 documentaries shown at the festival was the winner of the Best Childrens Documentary. Can You Die in Heaven?, directed by talented Danish director Erland E Mo, is a 57-minute film about an 11-year-old boy called Jonathan who has more to occupy his mind than most children.
Jonathan was only eight when his father committed suicide. Shortly afterwards Jonathan is diagnosed with bone cancer and has to undergo a long period of treatment, including major surgery and chemo-therapy.
Combining courage, humour and vitality with frankness, openness and an extraordinary emotional maturity, Jonathan and his mother and two brothers pull together as they work their way through grief and illness.
The film was entered in the children’s competition because its main subject is a child, but Can You Die in Heaven would do well in almost any category at any festival and most definitely deserves a wider audience.

Best of Estonia
The harrowing story of Aino and her twin sister Vaike was told in a gritty documentary portraying the horrors of life under Soviet rule. Memories Denied, which was voted Best New Estonian Documentary, shows concentration-camp life as it was for thousands of Estonians during the years of Stalinist terror from 1943 to 1953.
Archive film, photographs and drawings merge with the nightmarish memories of the sisters. Sometimes they are able to relate their recollections, other times the memories are too painful to be relived.
Memories Denied was one of 13 Estonian-made documentaries screened at the festival.

Other Awards
The Best Scientific Film award went to rookie Japanese director, Kazuyo Minamide, for Circumcision in Transition. Shot in Bangladesh the film shows how the advent of western medical procedures is gradually eroding local customs.
Kazuyo conducted the interviews in Bangladeshi after learning the language in about two months. She told that she plans to return to Bangladesh soon, this time to make a documentary about wedding customs and rituals.
The Special Prize of the French Ambassador to Estonia was awarded to German director Marco Wilms for his Tailor-Made Dreams, which follows the travels and adventures of a Bangkok-based Indian tailor who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star.
Irina Goldstein’s When Silence Sings, which depicts how silent films can be given new life through the addition of music, won Best Art Film; Kiran Over Mongolia picked up Best Film about the survival of indigenous peoples.
Alexandar Manic’s highly amusing documentary about the inhabitants of Shutka, the Romany capital of the world, was given an honourable mention. Called the Shutka Book of Records it shows how the city thrives on achieving records in a remarkable variety of activities ranging from songfests to goose fights and from dog fights to vampire hunts!

by Jeremy Colson


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