Feature: The 33

…They’ll dig us out. If they don’t our families will, with their bare hands if it’s necessary. I believe we’ll make it out of here because I choose to believe it. All 33 of us! 

August 5, 2010, had begun like any other day for the men who worked the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. As the 33 miners descended deeper and deeper into the cavernous mine, they could not have imagined the events that would place them at the centre of a drama that captivated the entire world.

Sixty-nine days later, on October 13th, more than a billion people watched as, one by one, those same men emerged from the ruins of the then-collapsed mine, which had held them captive for more than two gruelling months. It was a miracle for the miners and their families and a victory for the Chilean government and the international team of rescuers. But there was much more to their inspiring story yet to be told.

Now, as we pass the five-year anniversary of the historic rescue, the feature film “The 33” shows for the first time the ordeal of the miners and their brave battle to survive even when faced with the grim reality that help might never reach them. It also reveals the hope and resolve of their families, who did not know if their loved ones were even still alive, but would not let them be forgotten, as well as the determination of the rescuers who surmounted every hurdle in bringing them home.

Director Patricia Riggen states, “This movie is about being trapped and alone and facing death, but it is equally about having faith and, in a way, coming back to life. It’s about rebirth and the strength of the human spirit and so much more.

“One of the first things that drew me to the project,” she continues, “was realizing how many people were touched by this story. In developing the film, I wanted to explore what it was that moved people around the world. What made them so invested in the lives of 33 men they would never know?”

Producer Mike Medavoy felt a special connection to the story having lived in Chile for ten of his formative years. He first met with a group of the Chilean miners when they visited Los Angeles shortly after their rescue. As they began sharing their personal stories, Medavoy recalls, “The clock turned back to when I was 17. It reminded me of the generosity of spirit and humor of the Chilean people. But I knew the film would have to be more than just about their plight. The film isn’t just the ending everyone saw; it’s the personal stories of the people, both above and below ground, who held onto their love and their faith for an outcome that seemed impossible.”

Antonio Banderas, who stars as the de facto leader of the miners, Mario Sepulveda, remembers following the events as they unfolded on television. Though he portrays one of the men trapped in the mine, he says, “The key for me was that the efforts to rescue the miners were successful because of the families pushing the government to do something. To fully understand this story, you have to see both the down and the up-what happened in the mine and what happened above. When you get the whole picture, it says so much about love and the value of individuals. It’s a celebration of life.”

“This movie is life-affirming,” echoes Lou Diamond Phillips, who stars as miner Luis Urzua. “There is humanity, there is hope, there is inspiration and an absolute tribute to faith in every frame. And because it is based on a true story, it can reinforce our belief in the human spirit. We are not manufacturing heroes in this film; we are simply shining a light on real people who became heroes.”

When the 33 men descended into the mine that typical August day, they were anonymous. Sixty-nine days later, they emerged as celebrities, but there were drawbacks to their unexpected fame. Producer Robert Katz observes, “All of a sudden, 33 unknown, hardworking men were turned into a global phenomenon. These ordinary guys were being hailed by the entire world, which played into their emotional states and interpersonal relationships.”

However, the men, having already been told of the fame that awaited them above, had formed a united front, agreeing to collectively tell their story to a single writer. They chose Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hector Tobar, whose resulting book, Deep Down Dark, became a critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller. It also became part of the basis of the screenplay for “The 33,” written by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, from a screen story by Jose Rivera.

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