Indie Filmmaker Brings Story Of Chile’s ’33’ Miners To The Big Screen

Five years ago, the world was riveted by the plight of 33 miners trapped deep underground in Chile. For 69 days, we waited to see if the men would survive the collapse of a gold and copper mine. Then came a miraculous ending: All the miners were carried to safety in a tiny capsule called The Phoenix.

Now that real-life story has been made into a movie called The 33. The intense, action-packed drama was directed by Mexican filmmaker Patricia Riggen. Riggen’s handful of previous films were small — a documentary and a couple of intimate features — but the emotions of The 33 are on a grand scale. To help capture those emotions, Riggen flew to Chile to talk to the original miners and hear their stories.

“I spent a lot of time with them,” she tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “I met with each of them privately to really hear their experiences.”

Interview Highlights

On going from making small films to a much larger production

Let’s say my experience making little, independent movies came in very handy. We didn’t have a studio when we were making it. Nobody wanted to make this movie because it’s a drama about 33 Latin men and that doesn’t get made anymore. It took, you know, real effort. And we ended up shooting 35 days, six days a week, 14 hours every day in the mine.

On shooting the film in a real mine

We shot in two real mines in Colombia. And we went to Colombia because their mines … are not as deep and as dangerous as the Chilean mines. Every single moment we had the head of the mine with us. … So sometimes he would come in and say, “Everyone step away,” and they would put up a ladder and they would detach a big rock that was going to fall. And it would fall, they would clean it up and then we would continue shooting.


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