Perma gold mine, Benin. Some dream to find something, others realized there was nothing to be found. Some dig relentlessly hoping to become rich, others died in the process. And a few of them say that here, “nobody dies”.
YOU DON’T JUST DIE, YOU DISAPPEAR
> How did you learn about the goldmine, to begin with?
When I was working in one of my previous documentaries around this area, somebody told me about these mines in the north, where people were working and dying and so on. This obviously picked my curiosity, so I was interested in going there, but we had no information about it – no photos, no articles, nothing. We knew nothing about it.
But we were curious, so we wanted to go, with no idea about what we’d find.
> Did you have any notable problems with the local government?
We wanted to shoot in an illegal goldmine, mind you – so, pretty obviously, nobody from the official institutions would be comfortable with us being there. Nobody wanted to know about this place, but at the same time, these people and the government were profiting from this place, taking the money, but denying the responsibility.
Even the idea of making a documentary about this was complicated: we knew some people that had asked for permission in the past, but it had always been refused. We knew that beforehand, we knew that the ministry wouldn’t even consider our ideas. They wanted nobody there, even less so people with cameras.
So we just went, we just did it – we entered the mine every night, at 04:00 AM, without any lights, so the soldiers and policemen would not be aware of us. After nine days and nights of doing so, and after our interview with the guy from the Ministry, the next day, they were there. They were some soldiers there, and caught us, and sent us off. And that was the end of it.
> Between the side of the people and the side of the government, which side do you think cinema should be on?
Personally, I would not say that my film is too much engaged with any of the sides – there’s no judgment at all, only a show of what’s happening. People are dying in this place, and that’s cruel, for sure – but the cruelest thing is that, if you die here, nobody will even notice. You don’t just die there – you disappear.
> Documentaries seem to have this aura of being a way for people to learn about foreign realities. Do you back this concept?
I think cinema has many goals and perspectives – to entertain, to detract, to inform, etc. While you can make engaged cinema, and that’s mostly what I do, I want to bring to the eyes of people what they usually don’t see.
But also, I think that documentaries are not reports, they are not information – to me, they are a kind of cinema piece, a way to capture reality. They’re not only journalism, not only matter-of-fact. And I think this is important, because I think that facts are not able to touch us, because we’re human after all, and we need a human connection to a character or something like that.
Like, how many times do we see Ghaza and this kind of places on the TV – ten times a year? Twenty? And yet we feel so disconnected, because we don’t know these people, so we don’t really care. And isn’t it ironic, how in a movie, for example, where you do have characters, you end up feeling for them, being concerned about their tribulations, even though you know they’re not real people?
But that’s the thing: you know them, you’ve spent time with them, you’ve got to know them and who they are. In the end, it’s a matter of time and connection, and in my mind, that’s what documentaries can provide – time, and context, and humanity.
Simon is grateful for the success he’s had with his documentaries, but in the future, he’d like to jump into making fiction, feeling that it’d be “a good way” to develop himself.