The Fabulous Gold Harvesting Machine
Alfredo Pourailly (director) & Francisco Hervé (producer)
Toto, the last gold digger in Tierra del Fuego, is now in his sixties. His body has been severely damaged by his work and he feels close to death, but stopping is not an option because he is not qualified for social security. His cowboy son Jorge designs a machine that should bring them a better future.
Tierra del Fuego is a remote island at the very south of Chilean Patagonia. The harsh weather has shaped a rough place to live in and the few constructions in the vastness of the landscape seem to exist out of time. Only 0,2 persons per square kilometer inhabit this land, one of the most isolated places in the world. One of these few inhabitants is Toto, a 60-year-old man who has worked more than 40 years digging for gold in the middle of the island hills. He is one of the last traditional gold diggers in Patagonia. Just by himself, he has spent more than half of his life searching for a fortune that has never come.
Toto’s daily life is hard: he works in his small open mine, breaking the rocks with his tools, getting hit by water, wind and snow, while he looks for a few gold nuggets. His body is starting to feel tired, and 20 to 50 grams of gold per month just don’t seem to be enough anymore. But his eyes still shine every time he weighs them, those few grams that keep alive the hope for the freedom that he has always desired.
On his tiny shelter, where he lives next to the mine, Toto usually turns on the radio, just to feel accompanied, and listens to what happens hundreds and thousands of kilometers away. On the daily news that sound on the background, the Chilean national riots give Toto new hope about the possibility of better social conditions. Time is running out for Toto. His body is not the same anymore, and last year he suffered a serious stroke that led to brain surgery. He feels death is coming closer, but he doesn’t quit his job. He has no right to Social Security because he has not been able to give enough money to the private administrators, just like millions of other Chileans. For that reason, Toto will have to work until the last day of his life. Maybe this could be his last season on the mountains.
His son Jorge, a young 20-year-old cowboy, is becoming a man. He lives in Porvenir, the biggest town around, almost 30 kilometers from his father’s mine. He works driving a machine, building roads through this unconnected territory. In his free time, he likes to ride wild horses, and he is one of the best riders in the island. He risks his life in traditional extreme competitions. He knows his dad is aging, and after Toto’s stroke, Jorge decides to do something about his father’s future. He understands that Social Security in Chile is not a real thing, so his father will have no help after retirement. But Jorge comes up with a big idea. He will design and build a machine which will help Toto get the gold from the land in a more easy, mechanical way. Jorge is not a designer, and he is not an engineer. He barely finished school. But he has determination. This crazy project becomes part of Jorge’s routine, and spends most of his free time working on it. He wants to finish it as soon as possible, but he needs time and money to get this huge project done. So, in the meanwhile, Jorge works on road constructions just to earn enough money to buy the materials needed for the machine. The overall process is slower than expected, but they are moving forward. The machine will be finished one day.
Jorge also spends time with Toto, sometimes just hanging out, but most of it working, and trying to convince his father that he needs to take care of his health. He realizes his dad starts to get old, and they both share the fear of a near death and what happens afterwards. Anyway, Toto seems to be able to joke about it. Dying is over-rated.
The machine construction sets the timeline of the story. We will be with Toto and Jorge during this process, building their father and son relationship. Daily moments such as a lunch at Toto’s house, a simple conversation on the backyard, or both driving an old truck to bring firewood to the mine, will be essential to feel what it means to live at the end of the world and denied of a struggle-less future. Toto will keep working on the mine, feeling the freedom he loves on each gold nugget he finds. His health will make him travel to the continent to see what doctors say about his situation. He should stop working, but everybody knows he can’t. Jorge will keep working on the machine until the end of winter, when they will both take their big crazy gold-digging thing to the hills of the island and, hopefully, begin a new future.
The film aims to be a cinematographic journey to open the doors of this intimate and fragile world which is filled with humor and rejects self-pity. It is a family love story that seeks to shed light on how the struggle against death is always better when it can be shared.
Alfredo Pourailly (born in 1988) is a Chilean documentary filmmaker and photographer. He is a Rolex Explorer Grantee, fellow member from The Explorers Club and a Leica supported photographer. He is based between San Sebastián -Spain- and Tierra del Fuego -Chile-. Currently he is working on his first documentary film The Fabulous Gold Harvesting Machine, granted by IDFA Bertha Fund, Hot Docs Cross Current Doc Fund and Chile Documentary Scriptwriting and Production Fund. The film was part of the official selection of IDFA Forum Rough Cut Screening 2019. His work as photographer and documentary filmmaker is focused in the remote region of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, documenting social and environmental stories. Part of his work has been published on The Explorers Journal, CNN, Daily Mail and several Chilean media. He started his own creative production company, 55 SUR media (www.55surmedia.com), where he has developed projects sponsored and supported by Fjällräven, Rolex, The Explorers Club, Leica and Patagonia among other brands. He was commissioned by Wildlife Conservation Society to produce a short doc-film about the beauties and threats in the southern Chilean fjords.
Francisco Hervé is a director, writer, and producer from Chile who graduated from the International Film School (EICTV) in Cuba. His documentary feature film The Power of Speech participated in the IDFA First Appearance competition (2009), and was awarded in many festivals. He has been interested in the creation of works that explore the limits between documentary and fiction. He was the creator of the false documentary series Ciudadano K (2007) for Chilean television, and the director of the feature film The Lost City (2016), which premiered in the international competition at Visions du Reel. He also produces films by other filmmakers, such as Hija (2011), by María Paz González (Thessaloniki), Beaverland (2014), by Nicolás Molina and Antonio Luco, (Sheffield), and The Other One (2020), Best Film at the Burning Lights competition in Visions du Reel, among others. After managing his own company, Panchito Films, for over ten years, in 2019 he created a new production house, Juntos Films (Together Films), alongside Moisés Sepúlveda and Daniela Raviola, bearing in mind that it is always better together. At this company, he has been developing and producing several projects, now also including fiction, in an effort to form a collective force with other producers, directors, and screenwriters. This 2021 Juntos Films will release the feature films Gran Avenida, by Moisés Sepúlveda and La Taza Rota, by Esteban Cabezas. Since 2012 Francisco (AKA Pancho) is part of the network of Eurodoc producers, and since 2008 he has also been teaching, including fiction, scriptwriting and documentary courses.