Kris Rothstein's Blog

VIFF 2017: Good Luck

Kris Rothstein

Long shots. People mining. Over two hours. Doesn’t necessary sound like the best recipe for filmic success. But I trust Ben Russell, the American experimental ethnographic filmmaker who blew my mind with Atlantis and A Spell to Ward off the Darkness, his collaboration with British filmmaker Ben Rivers.

Good Luck is a film in two segments. The first is shot at a state-owned copper mine in Serbia. Other than the first shot, which offers some spatial context for the mine while a brass band plays and slowly walks away, this segment is filmed exclusively far below the surface of the earth in near-darkness. The labyrinth of tunnels is lit by headlamps. Men attack rock. Sometimes they gather in a break room and are asked tough questions about what they want out of life. Their only answer is a better life for their children. The second segment of the film observes a very different landscape, where men search for gold in the jungle of Suriname. They walk, they wrestle with machines, they stand in thick muddy water.

This is very much a film about industry and labour. Because there is no mediation, we are very engaged in the physical nature of labour, as men struggle with machines. Most of their individual activities are barely recognizable as anything I could identify as mining. It is interesting that the routines of industry are seldom shown on screen these days. In a larger sense the film is about bodies, how we use them and how they move through space and history. Many events, large and small, have all come together to bring each one of these miners to the place they are in and therefore to be doing this job.

Good Luck is also a film about ruined landscapes and environmental destruction. This is not communicated in an obvious or bombastic way. The sense is more disturbing in Suriname since the gold mining takes place on the surface of the earth and we see forest being burned and the scarred muddy landscape that remains. The Serbian copper mine is removed from the landscape so we don’t see the devastation in the same way, although the deep rock tunnels are creepy and disturbing.

History and a sense of the past permeate the film, though they are seldom referenced. It is impossible not to wonder if the Serbian men fought in the war of the former Yugoslavia and how industry and work was disrupted by the conflict. The miners in Suriname are all of African origin, presumably part of the Maroon community of descendants of escaped slaves who have semi-autonomously ruled a region of the country for hundreds of years. These men specifically describe how their education was disrupted by a long and brutal civil war.

A constant in the film is use of very long close-ups of the faces of individuals miners. You get the impression that they are told to watch the camera for as long as they feel comfortable and then turn it off. The Serbian faces seem so much older and sadder. When a young miner turns up, smirking a little, it is tragic. He is young and full of hope and all I could see was how his face would soon be transformed into the hopeless ones of his older colleagues.



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