Tackling a true story is no small feat for a filmmaker.
“The first thing you realize is that you don’t know anything,” director Patricia Riggen said with a chuckle last night during a roundtable interview about her film, The 33.
The 33 played to a sold-out crowd at the Heartland Film Festival’s special presentation screening at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12. Starring Antonio Banderas, it tells the miraculous true story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for more than two months in 2010. They were essentially buried alive by the explosion of a 100-year-old copper and gold mine. The film makes you a fly on the wall of the mine in which the men were captive, revealing the drama we didn’t see in the media at the time.
“What was reported in the news was filtered. The miners didn’t really say what was going on down there,” Riggen said. “They’re men who have a great, big sense of dignity. They didn’t want to show the world the fear, the tears and everything that happened when they were down there for 69 days.”
Before filming began, Riggen sat down with each and every one of the 33 men, gently prying their most painful experiences out of them.
“Very rarely do we encounter people who went to Hell and came back to tell us about it,” she said. “These guys basically experienced what being dead is like, and they came back. So, this is really precious information that we have.”
Despite the dark subject matter of the film, Riggen kept the conversation light, at one point saying, “I moved to the U.S. for a reason — to avoid Latin men! And suddenly I was faced with 33!”
She drew quite a few laughs from the film critics sitting around her in Heartland’s Premiere Pavilion outside of the theater. When talking about the challenge of making the film, Riggen grinned and summarized it as “handling 33 men down inside a mine that had no bathrooms.” (The film was shot in a real salt mine in Colombia.)
Riggen said the actors were understandably “cranky” from being covered in dirt and sweat and dieting to appear gaunt like the miners. Through her laughter at the chaotic nature of the production, she showed a great sense of affection for the filmmaking process.
The interview was ultimately a perfect embodiment of the Heartland Film Festival — lighthearted yet insightful, sentimental but not sappy. Truly moving.
If you missed it at Heartland, you can see The 33 when it opens nationwide on November 13.