As filming begins on Hollywood movie telling story of dramatic rescue, some miners claim they were tricked out of royalties
When 33 Chilean miners were hauled to the surface after 69 days trapped in a collapsed copper mine in 2010, more than a billion people around the world tuned in to watch as the rescue was broadcast live on television.
It was inevitable, then, that the dramatic story would be made into a movie. But just weeks before filming is set to begin for a multimillion dollar Hollywood film starring Antonio Banderas and Martin Sheen, the miners are locked in a bitter legal dispute over the contract in which they signed away their life rights.
Several of the men, including Luis Urzúa, who was foreman of the group at the time of the mine collapse, claim they were tricked out of royalties by lawyers and abandoned by the Chilean justice system.
“We have to fix our affairs with the lawyers and with the [movie] producer that is in the United States. With the march of time, we have had various complications with respect to our life story,” said Urzúa,. “I don’t think we are going to make a movie and then later realise we feel bad [because] our rights were infringed.”
Over the past months the miners have divided into two factions. One – led by Urzúa – has complained that they were pressured into signing the contracts, which were available only in English. The other group said the contracts were also drawn up in Spanish and were the result of a group vote.
Urzúa, who is president of the miners’ group, “The 33 of Atacama”, said the men did not oppose the making of the movie, but said: “We are against what happened with our contracts, how they were developed and how they are at this point.
Mario Sepúlveda, who acted as the miners’ spokesmen in videos recorded underground, has also protested against the contracts. He is to be played by Banderas in the movie, but when the Spanish star visited Chile last month Sepúlveda refused to meet him because of the legal battle.
“There will be no meeting with Banderas until the contract conditions are fixed and conversations had with the lawyers,” said Elvira Valdivia, Sepúlveda’s manager and wife. “It is the only way to pressure so that the situation can be resolved,” she told Chilean newspaper La Tercera.
The legal fray is focused in part on who retains the long-term rights to key elements of the rescue, including a private diary kept by the miners, and still unknown details about the initial 17 days of the entrapment. It was during those first 17 days the miners were trapped with practically no food that the 33 men created a remarkable underground community that included daily votes on key issues, 12-hour work shifts, a system of underground lighting, morning prayer meetings and a daily ration consisting of a single spoonful of tuna fish and a sip of rancid milk. Their democratic and communal decision-making during this crucial period was later cited by Nasa specialists as instrumental to their survival.
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