When the Bull Cried

Deep underground, 10,000 feet above sea level

When the Bull Cried Danger, toil, and superstition pervade life in a mining town high up in the Bolivian mountains. Tin is the heartbeat of the community, providing jobs and livelihoods – but at considerable cost. With deaths commonplace, people turn to El Tio, the devil under the earth, for protection and good fortune, supplicating him with alcoholic libations. But when the mountain’s flow of tin ebbs, further measures must be taken.

Thundering booms ricochet off the peaks of a dazzling mountain range. "That's dynamite," an old lady comments as she sorts through the tin-rich rocks on the mountainside. "They have accidents in there. They go in alive and come out dead in the evening." In this remote part of the world, health and safety is an abstract idea and the death rate is high.

"My dad died inside the mine while working with dynamite," one young boy relates. "He left without saying goodbye. I wish I had told him to take care of himself." His tragic story is all too common, and with such a narrow line between life and death, superstitions are commonly held. "Some people say that the mine's devil ate him. They say that when you look El Tio in the eye, he eats your soul," the boy explains.

A miner relates the origins of the demon: "One day, the creator imprisoned the devil, chained him up. We miners set him free. The devil said: 'Thank you for releasing me from my chains. For this, I will make you happy and rich.'" Now that he is free, the miners supplicate him with drink offerings to gain good fortune and avoid an early destruction. But even this time-tested method is starting to fail as the tin gradually diminishes.

"There is no more mineral," an old woman, scouring the mine, says. "The miners are washed up. They worship the devil. The more they drink, the more mineral appears. That's why they drink so much." However, as the troubling situation becomes increasingly clear, further action must be taken to provide for the future.

Where the future is deeply uncertain and the present full of toil, beliefs and practices that seem bizarre to the uninitiated become the norm. With astounding cinematography, this poetic documentary does more than just record the idiosyncrasies of an isolated community, but captures a haunting glimpse into life on the edge of death.


Laurel Selected for Intenational Competition - DOK Leipzig 2017
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