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Trapped Chilean miners to appear on the big screen

Many say the successful rescue of 'Los 33' after their 69-day plight is made for Hollywood, but Chileans are cautious about how their society will be portrayed.

By Aaron NelsenCorrespondent / July 27, 2011

In this Oct. 13, 2010, file photo released by the Chilean government, miner Mario Sepulveda celebrates after being rescued from the collapsed San José gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for more than two months near Copiapó, Chile. The 33 miners have sold the rights to their story to producer Mike Medavoy.

Hugo Infante/AP

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Santiago, Chile

The last major international movie filmed in Chile – the James Bond thriller "Quantum of Solace" – was, according to the story, actually a portrayal of Bolivia. And earlier films offered either convenient anecdotes of the country’s dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet or an otherwise narrow view of Chilean society.

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So, given how their country has been portrayed on the silver screen, Chileans may greet with skepticism news that the successful rescue of 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days will be made into a Hollywood feature film.

How will Hollywood treat Chile’s moment of triumph in the Atacama Desert when this long strip of a nation commanded the world's attention late last year?

“Chileans are shy, but we’re fascinated by what others say about us,” says Cecilia Varas. “Still, I have no doubt it will be a good display of the Chilean spirit.”

Errors and fantasy are to be expected, Ms. Varas added, but she had little doubt that the best of the film would be the real story itself.

For 69 days, “Los 33,” as they are now known, were trapped 2,300 feet under the desert floor after the San José gold and copper mine caved in. The miraculous rescue and the details of their harrowing experience, including the first 17 days before they were found alive, is not something that requires exaggeration, says José Luis Bilbao.

“I think the important thing here is the message of hope,” says Mr. Bilbao. “Regardless of the small mistakes everyone knows from China to some small island in the middle of the ocean when you say 'Los 33,' it's Chile.”

Of course part of what captured the attention of the world was the colorful personalities inside the mine. Edison Peña’s devotion to all things Elvis, Yonni Barrios’s wife and girlfriend, newborns and marriage proposals: the saga of the trapped miners had it all.

Acclaimed author and Los Angeles Times reporter Hector Tobar is writing a book about the miners’ ordeal, which will serve as the template for the movie. Mr. Tobar’s involvement should assuage at least some concerns that concocted drama will be woven into the film.

For his part, Hollywood mogul Mike Medavoy, who grew up in Chile and is producing the film, said in a statement: "In its heart, this is a story of the triumph of 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.”

College student Christopher Salvatierra was a bit more reserved. He tempered his enthusiasm for the film with questions about authenticity. Invented romances and drama are the hallmark of Hollywood, but where and how often will the movie take liberties, Mr. Salvatierra wonders. “As long as they don’t go overboard I think it will be fine,” says Salvatierra. “I’m definitely going to see it.”

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