Chilean miracle miners back in spotlight (AFP/Sydney Morning Herald – January 2, 2014)

At the bottom of a dank salt mine in Colombia, a 200-strong film crew featuring Spanish actor Antonio Banderas is reconstructing the incredible tale of 33 miners buried alive for 69 days in Chile in 2010. Actors from multiple countries work in suffocating heat on The 33, which traces the unlikely survival of the men trapped deep underground after a collapse at the San Jose copper mine in the Atacama desert.

“It’s not just about the physical ordeal these 33 men went through – it’s about the emotional one, of wondering if they would live or die, or if they would go crazy waiting to find out,” Gregg Brilliant, a spokesman for the American film production, told AFP.

To depict the incredible story that unfolded more than 600m underground, the production team chose to film at two sites outside the Colombian capital Bogota. Behind a security cordon, curious onlookers try to catch a glimpse of a star, but their Hollywood hopes are repeatedly dashed.

In the salt mines of Nemocon, the humid and musty environment combine with the thin mountain air to recreate the oppressive atmosphere at San Jose, located 800km north of Chile’s capital Santiago.

The film recounts the story of the mine accident and how all 33 men – 32 Chileans and a Bolivian – eventually escaped in a spectacular rescue operation watched around the world.

Banderas, 53, will play Mario Sepulveda, the charismatic de facto leader of the group.

French actress Juliette Binoche, who replaced Jennifer Lopez in the cast, and Americans Martin Sheen and James Brolin also star in the film.

Under the guidance of Mexican-born American director Patricia Riggen, the actors sweat profusely, keeping make-up artists hard at work before each take.

“The ambiance is real. You dont have to act so much,” said Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Luis Urzua, the mining team’s shift leader nicknamed “Don Lucho” who organized the men’s food supply during their ordeal.

Producers relied heavily on a vast trove of data about the incident, including the miners’ medical reports, to make the film as authentic as possible.

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