Price of Gold: Film Review

Price of Gold Poster Art - P 2013

Price of Gold Poster Art - P 2013

Well-lensed observational doc exposes an obscure economic reality in Mongolia.

Sven Zellner follows a small crew of Mongolian miners through long months of illegal work.

Despite what one might know about massive mineral-extracting companies and efficiency-maximizing operations, mining for gold is not always a high-tech affair. Sometimes it's five Mongolian men standing in the Gobi Desert, starting with shovels and only days later wheeling out the big gun: a rattletrap compressor that pumps air down into the hole. Sven Zellner follows one such crew in Price of Gold, doing little but chronicling their efforts and listening to apologetic explanations of what they're doing with their lives. The patient doc may not have the oomph to expand beyond limited theatrical bookings, but it would be worthwhile for educational TV outlets.

The crew's work is illegal -- foreign-owned companies long ago carved this territory up among themselves -- and clashes with their ancestors' sense of harmony with the environment. We hear at one point that their preference would be to have monks come out and ceremonially ask the mountains' forgiveness for the injuries they cause. But they do it because moneymaking options are scarce in their rural communities.

Zellner's interest is part sociological, observing as two "bosses" interact with three "workers." Even in a small group that lives together, shares meals and teases each other, a sometimes mean-spirited hierarchy exists. The workers in particular are ashamed to be gold diggers, and when contemplating the dangers of their work, they say few would mourn the loss of a man destroying the country for money.

But the film is more fascinated by the process itself -- checking in and counting down the days of labor, delay, defeat and decampment to new locations. The often beautifully photographed pic is especially dramatic underground, as men follow seams of gold with flashlights, and when hovering in the main shaft -- watching dust swirl upward as a man troubleshoots a stick of dynamite that might well go off as he resets a lead.

Production company: Nominal Film
Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Sven Zellner
Producer: Maximilian Plettau
Editors: Sven Zellner, Uisenma Borchu
No rating, 84 minutes