Choropampa: The Price of Gold

Directed by Ernesto Cabellos and Stephanie Boyd

75 minutes / Color
Spanish / English subtitles
Release: 2003
Copyright: 2002

This is the story of an Andean paradise lost - lost after a devastating mercury spill. On June 2nd, 2000 at the Yanacocha goldmine in the Peruvian Andes, 151 kilograms of liquid mercury spilled over a 25-mile long area, contaminating three mountain villages, including Choropampa. The environmental catastrophe turned this quiet village into a hotbed of civil resistance.

The mine, jointly owned by a Peruvian company, the World Bank, and the Newmont Mining Corp of Colorado, insists the problem was quickly resolved, while villagers tell a starkly different story. CHOROPAMPA - THE PRICE OF GOLD follows their valiant struggle for health care and justice over a two-year period.

More than 900 people were poisoned from the spill. Nearly two years afterward, they continue to suffer the grave, debilitating effects of mercury poisoning. Proper medical care has not been provided to the villagers, and their health continues to deteriorate.

Villagers liken the mine owning foreigners to modern-day conquistadors, evoking the impoverished region's troubled, historical relationship with gold. A farmer tells the story of Atahualpa, the Inca ruler who was captured and murdered, not far from Choropampa, by Spanish explorers hungry for the precious metal. The treachery continues today he says, "Foreigners have been coming and taking our gold and Peru remains as poor as ever…"

But when the young, dashing Lot Saavedra is elected mayor the town finds new hope. Saavedra promises to win health care and fair compensation for the victims, and takes on corrupt politicians, company officials, and shady medical experts to do so. Months of tense, frustrated talks culminate in the dramatic blockade of the mine's vehicles, but cracks in the community threaten to undermine the villagers' resolve.

In cinéma vérité style, illustrated by archival footage, CHOROPAMPA - THE PRICE OF GOLD exposes the global gold trade's nasty underbelly, and makes it clear that the village was sacrificed to American business interests. The story is a poignant reminder of the real cost of gold.

Also available in a 52 minute version

"Powerful! A quiet and thoughtful film that would be very useful in classes that discuss grassroots organizing, globalization, and environmental issues in contemporary Latin America."- The Americas: A Quarterly Journal of Inter-American Cultural History

"A great teaching tool."- Peter Woicke, President of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank

"It's in the capturing of events and personal conflicts that CHOROPAMPA delivers its strongest punch. The excitement of what the camera records, however, never detracts from the larger issues, particularly how the Peruvian political and economic systems are profoundly dependent on U.S. corporate interests... (The film) asks larger questions about corporate and government responsibility in Third World regions rich in natural resources but poor in material wealth."- Variety

"Grabs you with its dramatic photography and narrative urgency."- Toronto Star

"Impressive... captures all the subtlety and contradictions of power relations in the Andes. I would highly recommend this video to anyone interested in globalization or the spirited ways in which common people resist it."- Professor of Anthropology Mary Van Buren, Colorado State University

"A powerful film. Hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call to mining companies worldwide that people come first."- Lucien Chauvin, Washington Post correspondent, Peru

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Select Accolades

  • 2005 National Women's Studies Association Film Festival
  • 2003 Latin American Studies Association Conference
  • Rudolf Vrba Award, 2003 OneWorld International Film Festival
  • Audience Prize, 2003 Barcelona Human Rights Film Festival
  • 2003 Valladolid International Film Festival
  • 2003 Chicago Latino Film Festival
  • 2002 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival


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