This was another film for which I moderated the Q&A for a press and Academy showing, allowing me a couple hours to get know director Hanna Slak while The Miner was screening. Before going into the film itself, I have to say that one thing she said made a great impression on me. Speaking of the time when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, she observed, “Our new leaders and Western advisors told us they would bring us democracy, but what they really brought us was just capitalism.”
The Miner was inspired by a deeply disturbing true incident. In the film, miner Alija Bašić, played by Croatian actor Leon Lučev, is ordered to examine an abandoned coal mine shaft and to report that nothing is there so that the mine can be closed and blocked up. But when Bašić penetrates deeper into the shaft, he discovers that parts of the mine have already been blocked. Digging his way through, he finds skeletons and bones—hundreds of them. When he reports this to his boss, he’s told to let it alone and file his report without this information. So Bašić tells the police and then the press. But clearly, he has dug up—literally—a chapter in Slovenian history that the majority of Slovenians do not want to hear about. Who are these people, who apparently were murdered soon after the end of World War II?
As a boy, Bašić emigrated from near Srebrenica in Bosnia. After he left, his entire family was massacred by Bosnian Serbs. When, in the mine, he finds female hair, he is doubly haunted by the memories of his beloved sister. He stubbornly contends that even if the remains can’t be identified, they were still human beings and they deserve a proper burial.
Slak worked with the real miner, Mehmedalija Alić, and helped him write his memoir. In real life, since 2009, more than 1,400 of the unknown victims have been exhumed from the mine and buried in a cemetery. This is a moving story, and I hope that, somehow, more people get to see it.