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14 Films about Belgian Coal Mines, 2012 DVD Box set, 185 min.
Documenting the underground life of miners on celluloid presents serious technical challenges. In the early twentieth century, the relatively low light sensitivity of film and limited options for artificial lighting confined filmmakers to shooting above ground, where they could film mining activities that took place in daylight. Cameramen only began to descend into the deepest galleries once technology had become more flexible. In addition to films with educational or documentary aims, many productions sought to portray mining in a positive light: to promote a given company and its products, or to attract a labour force, whether locally or from afar.
Often the motivation for producing a mining film would arise from current events, as happened with the mining accident in Marcinelle in 1956, with miners’ strikes and finally with the closure of all of Belgium’s operational mines. Filmmakers also found inspiration in the social life in and around mines. In 1911, Victorin H. Jasset made his Au pays des ténèbres, a silent melodrama about passion and adultery in the shadow of the mine tower. Cinematek has joined forces with fellow archives, heritage societies and former mining sites to select 14 films that reconstruct the collective mining past from a number of different perspectives. The publication that accompanies the DVD features texts by such experts as Bert Van Doorslaer and Alain Forti, who frame the films in the relevant historical context. EM