Observational docu “End of the Rainbow” puts the human factor first and lets viewers draw their own conclusions about big-picture politics as it charts the establishment of a multinational gold mine in a remote part of Guinea. Decision not to identify people and companies or go for the expose-of-exploitation jugular may dent prospects in the commercial arena, but pubcasters far and wide should step up. Well-crafted debut by Aussie helmer Robert Nugent has clocked extensive fest mileage since picking up the First Appearance gong at IDFA. An hourlong version airs on Oz government network SBS in November.
In a refreshing change from hardline docus about foreign capital wreaking havoc in Third World countries, Nugent’s agenda is to illustrate the mechanics of building a mine in a far-flung destination and measure how it affects the lives of locals and expat workers. Crucially, it covers all important issues and in no way feels like a sponsored exercise.
Opening segment answers the first question with spectacular footage of a massive plant being dismantled in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Like a giant Meccano set, pieces are shipped to Guinea, then reassembled 600 miles inland near the Mali border.
Reaction to the mine in its sparsely populated destination is mixed. The company has paid for a new school and men given jobs at the plant are grateful, but others fear forced relocation and toxic runoff into the water supply. Main spokesperson is a level-headed village chief who hopes the “pagan” visitors and his Muslim people can work and live together successfully.
Big obstacle to peaceful co-existence is the company’s massive land holding; the lease encompasses areas where alluvial gold has traditionally been gathered to supplement incomes in lean harvest months. Though not unsympathetic to the cause, security bosses have little option but to round up those attempting now-illegal nighttime fossicking. Given all-areas access by everyone, Nugent includes some dramatic scenes of interrogation and the tense fall-out following arrests.
Even-handed entry also gets to know the foreign workers shipped in with the machinery. Balancing expected footage of white guys drinking away their wages at the on-site bar — “isolation madness,” as one puts it — are melancholy-tinged thoughts of others who’ve been on the road for so long, they don’t really know where home is any more.
Sans narration, voices from all sides are intelligently edited into an entertaining and sometimes touching look at displacement and difficulties adapting to change.
Unobtrusive lensing doesn’t miss a thing, and a terrific soundtrack of traditional songs punctuates the proceedings at well-timed intervals.