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By Alyssa Amasol. November 6, 2012 - 1:33 pm
Miners hoist baskets on their shoulders and carry them out of the crater and down the volcano, a trip that can take up to 4 hours. Photo: HIFF
Hell is a daily reality for the Indonesian miners at Kawah Ijen.
Filled with the stench of rotten eggs and the sweat of struggling, underpaid workers, Kawah Ijen is packed with more than 500 men desperate for work in order to provide for their families.
Through beautiful cinematography and intimate interviews, filmmaker Sasha Friedlander tells the stories of four sulfur miners working at Kawah Ijen.
It starts before the sun rises. Men march with torches and empty baskets resting on their shoulders. They disappear into the crater and emerge when the sun is up hauling their baskets full of sulfur on their worn-out shoulders in a struggle to climb the steep, smoke-filled crater.
We soon begin to learn “Where Heaven Meets Hell.”
Shots of the thick smoke, miners struggling to climb and even breathe, baskets being filled with chunks of sulfur, and in contrast, the beauty of the turquoise-colored acid lake set up the scenes that are described as hell on earth.
This year, “Where Heaven Meets Hell” received the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Hawaii International Film Festival.
The documentary illustrates the horrendous working conditions of the sulfur miners.
The men wake up early to hike up the volcano, then into the crater where they are engulfed in clouds of suffocating smoke. Through this they mine sulfur and collect it in two baskets attached by a bamboo pole. Once full the baskets weigh anywhere from 170 to 200 pounds. The miners hoist them on their shoulders and carry the baskets out of the crater and down the volcano, a trip that can take up to 4 hours.
As awful as the situations may be, the miners are still able to see the beauty beyond Kawah Ijen. In the film, Anto said, “There are so many people who have a harder life than we do.”
He is so grateful for his wife, his health and for each day. Coming from a man who works more than two weeks straight through conditions we cannot even fathom is truly inspiring. All of the men are motivated to give their children a better life than they had. Seeing these men work and knowing why, pulls on your heartstrings.
By the end of the film it feels as if these characters are your friends. In the 80 minutes, you learn the intimate details of these miner’s lives: their struggles, who they are, where they’ve come from, their hell and their heaven.
Friedlander, who speaks Indonesian, first learned about Kawah Ijen while working at a newspaper in Bali.
“I was really struck by Kawah Ijen,” she said. “And so I did a weekend trip, and I hadn’t really seen any photos of the miners … And so when I got there I was totally blown away by the beauty and in contrast, the horrific working conditions of the miners and immediately started thinking that it would make an incredible story. So two years later I was able to get back there and start shooting.”
Friedlander found the characters she was looking for within the first two days of being at Kawah Ijen.
She and her crew went up and down the crater every day to get to know the men in their working conditions. After that they went back with the men to their families and actually lived with them.
Currently in Indonesia there is no concern for the working conditions of the miners. The owner of the mine believes he is doing the men a favor by providing them with jobs.
Unfortunately, working at the mine is their best option for work. They could work at the coffee or tea plantations but they are able to make far more money at the mine. Most don’t have the education to work elsewhere.
Friedlander is hoping that in the next few months momentum will build with the help of the Women’s Empowerment Network.
The organization is collecting funds to provide education programs for the children, programs for women to get involved and earn money on their own, and then a program that provides funding for protection against the hazardous conditions at the mine for the workers.
If you would like to help, visit their website at www.whereheavenmeetshell.com.