To turn the industry's negative image around, the mining industry needs to invest millions in new films
By Patrick Whiteway
Canada's latest contribution to popular culture, Justin Bieber, is bathing in positive publicity. His Twitter page tells 2.8 million followers, largely pre-teen girls, seemingly everything about him. And a music video of his song Baby has been viewed 171 million times on You Tube (as of June 1, 2010).
Not so with the mining industry. Mining publicity in today's popular culture is exclusively negative, documenting the shenanigans that go on in the industry.
Two films about gold mining, for example, were screened recently in Toronto at the Canadian International Documentary Festival, more commonly known as the HotDocs Festival.
One was the world premiere of The Devil Operation directed and produced by Stephanie Boyd.
And the other was entitled They Come for the Gold, They Come for it All, directed by Pablo D'Alo Abba and Cristian Harbaruk.
On May 3rd I took in The Devil Operation.
Set in Peru at the Yanacocha gold mine, operated by Newmont Mining Corp., this film documents the surveillance, harassment, kidnapping and torture of ecoactivists and indigenous farmers (and the murder of one protester) by security guards reportedly hired by Newmont (see trailer below).
Following the screening, the hero of the story, a Catholic priest, Father Marco Arana, answered questions from the audience. He mediated talks between Newmont and the local farmers.
One of his many messages was that if investors want to make responsible investments in mining companies, then investors should demand to know the details about how their money is being spent. In this case, Newmont reportedly paid security forces who committed crimes against local farmers.
The Devil Operation made me think about the biggest scandal in Canadian mining history: the Bre-X Minerals Inc. fraud in Indonesia and whether or not that story has been satisfactorily portrayed in film.
It turns out that Bre-X was the subject of a short documentary film in 2003 called Fool's Gold which was broadcast as part of a series called Masterminds (see the You Tube version in three parts below). But no feature films have been made of that monumental gold salting fraud which cheated investors out of millions of dollars.
In mentioning Bre-X to my wife, she reminded me of a book called "The Silver Bears" by Paul E. Erdman. This piece of fiction, published in 1974, is about the intentional manipulation by the mafia of the silver market. This book is hilariously funny and very entertaining. It would make a great movie.
In fact, on the cover of the book are the words: "now a major motion picture."
Sure enough, in 1978, the book was made into a feature length film called simply "Silver Bears". It was directed by Ivan Passer and stared Michael Caine.
If this is the type of presentation that the general public uses to form an opinion about the mining industry, is it any wonder that the Canadian parliament is presently debating Bill C-300? That's a private members bill that will add another series of regulatory hoops for Canadian companies to jump through when operating in countries other than Canada. It's being hotly contested by the industry because of the costs it would add to international mine developments.
I think that if the mining industry seriously wants to improve its public image and if it wants to continue to have a licence to operate in the developing world, it should embrace Bill C-300 and be more open and transparent about how it spends shareholders money.
The industry should dig into its deep pockets and finance documentary and feature length films that portray the great work that responsible mining companies are doing to earn the respect of the local people where they operate.
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