“Not all the money in the world is worth your health,” says a doctor to a Chinese gold miner who is suffering from an illness caused by his work in a small mine. The miner had minimized the importance of his affliction. This and other compelling scenes are part of the film “The Shadow of Gold” Canadian co-director/producer Robert Lang.
The movie took us to different gold mining installations to show the impact on the environment, given that to separate gold from other materials, substances such as mercury and cyanide are extensively used. The locations are both, in North America –”this is not something that is happening only in some remote areas of the world” tells me Robert Lang during a phone interview– as well as in China, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter a country immersed in a civil war for a long time, where gold also plays a key role to get weapons and pay the members of warring factions.
With images that conveys both, the spectacular vastness of nature, in particular the scenes shot in the Amazon region of Peru, and the human drama surrounding the workers who extract the gold, especially in China, the film is able to make the audience reflect on how this commodity, so much present in our lives, has a not-so-shining side indeed. The sad exploitation of labourers in some countries, the disregard for environmental concerns in most, and the actual danger posed by deposit of toxic materials which have collapsed causing severe damage to the land and potential risks to the health of people. Cases of this nature have occurred in Brazil, but also in Canada, at a deposit in British Columbia.
We had the chance to speak with the director of the film:
Montreal Times: How did the idea of this film originate?
Robert Lang: We had worked on other projects before concerning diamonds, and opium, looking at them from a global perspective. There was no other film like this one, with gold in a way that was to be unique by looking at its impact. The book “Gold” by Matthew Hart was significant in giving us the inspiration to approach this issue. This was a fascinating book, looking at the scale of the production and the diverse perspectives he takes on the subject.
MT: The film makes an interesting counterpoint between gold in jewellery and the ways it is extracted, but it doesn’t mention its industrial use. Any reason for that?
RL: Although industrial use is important, in electronics mainly, we wanted to make the audience connect to the story and for most people that connection is through jewellery, hence the question “Do you know where the gold in your ring comes from?”
MT: And that’s why you make a reference to a store in Toronto that actually sells only traceable gold, to make sure it comes from legitimate sources
RL: That’s right, although for now, this fair trade gold is only a small fraction of all the gold transactions, it is a correct approach.
MT: Your film shows that a Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry has demonstrated an effective method to separate gold from other materials using simple non-pollutant ingredients, why hasn’t this method become the standard in the industry?
RL: With no compulsion to do so, the industry is just too conservative to change and continues using the chemicals that are dangerous for the environment.
MT: The film also highlights the critical role that Canadian mining companies play worldwide, however at the same time it mentions that this is not reflected in many benefits to the country, why is that?
RL: Over fifty per cent of all gold mining in the world is done by Canadian corporations however the benefits are not seen in Canada, the ones who profit from these earnings are the shareholders of those companies. They don’t invest much in the country either.
Finally some reminders about the environmental impact as highlighted by this film: “In North America and many parts of the world, mining is the largest source of contaminated solid waste into the environment. Industrial-scale gold mining generates over 20 tons of contaminated wastes for each new gold ring made.”
“The Shadow of Gold” filmed in Canada, the U.K., U.S., Dubai, China, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be screened in Montreal at the Cinema du Parc (3575 Park Ave.) starting March 26. It will also be streaming on TVO.org and in French on Canal D beginning March 28.