Two mining communities on opposite sides of the world with their own rules and conventions, one blasting away rock for copper, the other dredging water and panning for gold; one deep below the earth’s surface, dank and dark, where day and night are irrelevant concepts, the other above, in the tropical heat, where the working day begins and ends with the presence and absence of light; one state-owned and organized, the other independent and illegal. Ben Russell’s new documentary Good Luck deliberately reveals the working conditions of miners in Bor, Serbia and the Brokopondo district of Suriname in a careful mix of calm observation, focused formalism, and ecstatic surrealism. As Russell has sliced his film into two distinct parts located in each of these mines, the contrasts only reveal themselves over time: here, more than ever, patience is a virtue.
It’s all shot (on 16mm film) with an immaculate attention to (surround) sound and breathtaking image – the Russell/Chris Fawcett Steadicam is back with a vengeance, circling a miner jackhammering into rock only lit by head lamp, or simply following a man, gas can in tow, as he trudges towards his destination. These cinematic flourishes are integrated into a socially minded, ethnographic film that seeks to put a face to the machine of capital – at times literally, by way of pseudo-Warholian black-and-white screen tests, which see the miners staring into the camera and controlling the length of the shots themselves. Russell ultimately manages to find a common ground between these men, workers and humans all, who toil away to improve their family’s circumstances, and who like a good song now and then.Mark Peranson