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Sundance 2014 review: Marmato

by on January 21, 2014


Marmato is a small town built high in the mountains of Colombia, directly on top of a hill that holds what is estimated to be $20 billion  worth of gold, one of the largest remaining gold deposits on the planet. The documentary that takes its name from the town explores the centuries-old mining culture of the townspeople who work in a series of old mines using antiquated techniques, and what happens when a giant Canadian mining corporation comes to town with eyes on that golden prize underneath the natives’ homes.

Shot over the course of six years by Mark Grieco, Marmato traces the effects of the gold boom on the town through several of the townspeople, including a miner, an independent mine owner and a local gold processor and politician worried about the influence of international mining companies. By taking the audience into the family dynamics and history of the town through its people, Grieco effectively sets up a variety of perspectives. While it would be easy to assume the outside influence of a Canadian company is a bad thing for the locals, the benefits and steady work are clearly a boon to some. At the same time, we see other workers who don’t feel they’re getting a fair deal from the big company–same goes for the indie mine owner waiting for a fair price before they sell their mining rights. The company’s plan to displace the entire city and level the mountain to get to the gold, though, brings all the locals together in unified voice to protect their heritage.

Marmato works on several levels–as a treatise on the economics of extraction industries, as a look at a small town culture fighting for survival against the advancement of new technology, as an homage to the old-time mining industry. It manages to keep the audience engaged through the personal stories of the town’s people, and it doesn’t end with any great cause for hope–proving its bona fides as a fine documentary, not just another Hollywood story.

Marmato remaining screenings:

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 6 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema, SLC

Thursday, Jan. 23, 9 a.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City

Saturday, Jan. 25, noon, Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City

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