Price of Gold
Educational/Institutional DVD: $298
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A film by Sven Zellner. Co-directed by Chingunjav Borkhuu. Germany/Mongolia, 2011, 86 minutes. In Mongolian with English subtitles.
For classroom use in: Culture, Ecology, Economics, Environment, Globalization, Labor Studies, Mongolia, Photography, Sociology, Southeast Asia
About the Film
Gold: today’s most popular investment commodity. This astounding film is the first to document the illegal gold-diggers in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert risking their lives for a few grams of the precious mineral. While the speculative market value of gold in the Western world holds little relation to any tangible yardstick, the film describes in very direct and stark images what it means to prospect for gold by hand, in brutal conditions eerily reminiscent of the California Gold Rush during the late 19th-century. In amazingly intimate shots, Sven Zellner shows us the people at the other side of the world who pay the real price of gold.
About the Filmmaker
Director and cinematographer Sven Zellner spent four years finding and getting to know the protagonists in Price of Gold. An accomplished photo journalist whose work is represented by the Hamburg-based agency Focus, Zellner published his first book of photographs when he was 22 years old. He has twice placed second in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and “Ninjas,” the series of photographs he created while researching Price of Gold among the Mongolian nomads, was presented at the international festival of photo journalism, Visa pour l’image: Perpignan, in 2011. Price of Gold is his debut feature film.
The idea to make a film about Mongolia’s illegal gold-diggers came about from what I experienced during my travels in Mongolia. Whenever I think about the conditions under which the gold-diggers work and how they risk their lives because they have no other alternatives, and when I read about the harmful effects of mercury and sense what awaits my protagonists and their families in about ten years from now, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realize that I can’t really change the situation, but there is one thing I can do: tell these people’s story to draw attention to their lust for life, their pride and their bitter fate.
In the Press
“This astounding film documents a band of illegal Mongolian gold prospectors, dynamite in hand, as they lower each other into holes in the Gobi Desert, risking their lives for a few grams of the precious mineral and the change to escape lives of grinding poverty.”—Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database
“…the film is another example of cheap laborers picking at scraps left behind by big businesses who have raped and reaped the rewards. The cinematography is breathtaking, and traditional folksongs add to the lore of the history of the land and the people. …I recommend this film for public, school and academic libraries. Recommended.”—Educational Media Reviews Online
“Price of Gold is a riveting look at hard living in the Gobi… While most Ninjas dig at the surface level, this group goes farther, using dynamite underground. We see the bosses providing coil, helmets, and tools to the workers, who then descend into dark pits to drill at quartz, empty their haul into the light, crush it into dust, and sift.”—Aaron Culter, Village Voice
“Surreal portrait of hardscrabble lives and omnipresent risk…Against a background of saffron dust and violet mountains, Mr. Zellner’s camera peers into a terrifyingly narrow mine shaft and watches as a worker packs dynamite, a cigarette dangling nonchalantly from his lips.”—Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
“The setting is the Gobi Desert, a barren, golden landscape where desperate Mongolian nomads, known as “ninjas,” search for leftover gold veins that the giant international mining companies might have overlooked when they swept through the area years ago. Sven Zellner, an accomplished photographer, spent years earning the trust of this scrappy group, which he follows into the claustrophobic shafts and the cramped quarters of the makeshift tent. His cinematography is breathtaking, and he drives home the inherent dangers of this illegal trade.”—Gayle MacDonald, The Globe and Mail
“Well-lensed observational doc exposes an obscure economic reality in Mongolia. Especially dramatic underground, as men follow seams of gold with flashlights, and when hovering in the main shaft—watching dust swirl upward as a man troubleshoots a stick of dynamite that might well go off as he resets a lead.”—John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
“8/10 stars! Price of Gold looks at many kinds of prices, material, emotional, and spiritual. Whether framed by daylight or darkness, above ground or below, Khuyagaa and his coworkers face the unknown.”—Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters
2013 DocuAsia Forum, Vancouver
2012 HotDocs Film Festival, Toronto
2012 DocuWest Film Festival, Colorado
2012 Beldocs Film Festival, Belgrade
2012 Brooklyn Film Festival, New York
2012 Filmfest Munich, Germany
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