Golden Struggles into Burkina Faso's Mining Realities

in 25th Ismailia Festival for Documentaries and Shorts

by Jihane Bougrine

Or de Vie, Boubacar Sangaré’s debut documentary, showcased in competition at the Ismailia Festival in Egypt and premiered at the Berlinale, is a deeply moving exploration of the intricate and perilous world of artisanal gold mining in Burkina Faso. 

From the beginning, the film sheds light on the challenges faced by miners, particularly young individuals like Rasmané, who, at only 16 years old, grapples with the transition from childhood to adulthood, the struggle for emancipation, and the environmental degradation wrought by mining activities. From its opening scenes, the director thrusts viewers into the heart of the action, immersing us in the depths of the artisanal mines of Kalgouli, where Rasmané and his fellow miners risk life and limb to extract gold. The bold direction allows us to palpably feel the anxiety and tension permeating this hostile environment. The camera takes daring risks, navigating through narrow mine shafts to capture each moment with gripping intensity.

What sets this film apart is its ability to completely immerse viewers in the lives of its characters. Their fears, hopes, and despair are palpable at every turn. Rasmané, in particular, embodies the internal conflict of an adolescent thrust into responsibilities and dangers far beyond his years. His quest for emancipation and a better life for his family is both inspiring and heart-wrenching, as it necessitates sacrificing his innocence in a harsh and unforgiving world. The director adeptly sensitizes us to the social, economic, and environmental issues intertwined with gold mining. Through Rasmané’s character, we witness the devastation wrought by this activity on the natural environment, with polluted waterways and wrecked ecosystems. By exposing these harsh realities, the film compels viewers to reflect on the consequences of human actions on our planet and future generations.

Ultimately, Or de Vie transcends its subject matter to become a profound exploration of the human condition, the struggle for survival, and the quest for dignity in an unforgiving world. Through courageous and immersive storytelling, the director delivers an unforgettable cinematic experience, drawing viewers into the lives of its characters and bringing them closer to their daily struggles. The entirety of the production is meticulously captured in this observational documentary, which delves into the underground tunnels stretching over 100 meters in length. Viewers discover the challenges faced by miners who may spend over two years without glimpsing even a speck of gold, let alone daylight. The film weaves a complex mythology around the djinns, believed by locals to hold sway over the discovery of gold.

Yet, beyond the omnipresent physical dangers, the community of Bantara grapples with a new threat: the recent arrival of well-resourced white prospectors. This foreign intrusion raises questions about the community’s future and exacerbates existing tensions. However, Or de Vie is more than a narrative about global injustices or the trials faced by African adolescents to sustain themselves. It is a universal exploration of growth, demonstrating that despite circumstances, youths like Bolo and his friends are not so different from teenagers worldwide, albeit forced to mature far more rapidly. Despite some poignant emotional moments, the documentary remains focused on a meticulous portrayal of its central character, offering profound social insights grounded in thorough research. Sangaré, the director, infuses the story with personal authenticity, having himself been a child miner in Bantara over two decades ago. Technically, Or de Vie distinguishes itself with its mastery, featuring understated yet effective editing. Sequences filmed inside the mine with Bolo add palpable tension. Despite lacking spectacle, the film compensates with a captivating immersion into the miners’ reality, offering a striking and enlightening cinematic experience.


Jihane Bougrine
Edited by Robert Horton