Sasha Friedlander’s profile of Indonesian sulfur miners had its world premiere at Hong Kong this past March. Its festival circuit includes Hot Docs, DocsDF, Taiwan Doc, Hawaii, and the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, where it won two awards.
An active volcano serves as both the stunning backdrop for Friedlander’s film, and the unusual workplace for the four men she follows in this intimate documentary. Anto, Sukarman, Purnomo, and Hadis are just four of the hundreds of men barely subsisting doing literally back-breaking work in the sulfur mines of the Kawah Ijen volcano. Lacking sufficient funds to invest in protective gear, they risk their health to support their families, hoping that their efforts to secure education for their children will provide an escape from poverty. Friedlander effectively captures her subjects’ lives, balancing interviews in the relative tranquility of their village home with verite footage of the treacherous yet breathtaking beauty of Kawah Ijen. If the film is somewhat quiet and understated, it nevertheless speaks volumes through the image of these four determined men, carrying loads of yellow rocks down a volcano as they breathe in noxious fumes – for the future of their families.