Uplifting story of trapped Chilean miners heads to big screen

THEY are known as Los 33, the Chilean miners whose terrifying 69-day ordeal trapped deep underground had the world holdings its breath. Now, one year after their rescue, the story of the men from the San José mine is heading for the big screen after they sold the rights to a veteran Hollywood producer.

Production will begin next year on a film chronicling the extraordinary saga of the August 2010 copper-gold mine collapse, which trapped 33 workers 2,300ft below ground.

The $20 million (12m) rescue operation that brought them safely back to the surface last October in Copiapo, in the Atacama desert, was watched by around a billion TV viewers and millions more on the web.

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Michael Medavoy - chief executive of Phoenix Pictures, producer of films including Black Swan and Shutter Island - purchased the rights to the tale.

He said: "Like millions of people around the world, I was completely engrossed watching the rescue at Copiapo.

"At its heart, this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit and a testament to the courage and perseverance of the Chilean people. I can't think of a better story than this one to bring to the screen."

Jose Rivera, a Puerto Rican-born playwright who wrote the screenplay for Motorcycle Diaries - a 2004 biopic about the travels of Che Guevara, the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary - will write the script.

Mr Medavoy, 70, who spent ten years as a child in Chile, will produce the film through his new company, Half Circle.

Juan Andres Illanes, 52, one of the miners and a former Chilean army corporal, said: "We consider this to be a great step towards the realisation of a film based on our experience in the mine. Much of our story has never been told."

The pricetag on the deal has not been disclosed, but is likely to have brought windfalls for Los 33, who have been feted as celebrities but have as yet earned little from their fame. Each received a share of the donations that poured in after their rescue, amounting to around $17,000 each, and there have been all-expenses paid international trips for interviews, speaking engagements and public appearances.

Edison Pena, 34, who kept miners' spirits up with Elvis singalongs, was treated to a visit to Graceland, the music legend's estate in Tennessee, and, earlier this month, to an Elvis festival in Canada. In December, 26 of the 33 were guests of honour at Old Trafford as Manchester United played Arsenal.But Omar Reygadas, 56, who was among those trapped, revealed in an interview last week that despite the perks, a majority of the group have money troubles and none has returned to work due to psychological issues. He said: "There's a myth that us miners have a lot of money, but that is not the truth. For us to have become millionaires, we would have had to find a jackpot of gold inside the mine and brought it up with us."

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All but two of the miners are suing the Chilean government seeking $541,000 in damages for failing to ensure mine safety.

The dramatisation of their ordeal will explore not only their joyous rescue, but the psychological torture they endured during more than two months in the mine. More uplifting moments might include Mario Gomez, 63, proposing to his girlfriend via a radio link from below ground; the tale of how Yonni Barrios, 50, turned out to have both a wife and a mistress waiting for him on the surface could provide one of the less edifying moments.

Mr Reygadas said: "We want the film to emphasise the spiritual aspects, to show respect between people, teamwork and, more than anything, faith. I think what happened in this mine was a miracle of life and that's what I want it to show."

Mr Medavoy said: "We'll dig deep into their stories. We're not just going to tell a story about 33 miners in a hole."

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