Filming with the coal companies

We were as transparent as possible in our communication with mining company Cerrejón Ltd. Prior to our first meeting in Bogotá, company representatives had watched my previous films on the topic of resettlement. We stuck to the facts, providing the company with all the information it requested regarding the film’s content, message, funders, distribution and so on. We benefitted from the fact that both Glencore in Switzerland and Cerrejón in Colombia have carried out elaborate PR campaigns in an attempt to improve their poor reputation with regard to human rights abuses and environmental destruction. The impetus for this effort is an incident in 2001 during which Cerrejón, using bulldozers from the coal mine and with the support of divisions of the Colombian police and army, violently destroyed Tamaquito’s neighbouring village and evicted its residents. As a result of the ensuing international protest, the company is now – at least outwardly – more open in the way it presents itself, and it considers its public image when it deals with journalists and critics. Germany is a very important market for Colombian coal and companies in Colombia carefully scrutinise German media coverage of the topic of coal imports.

We embarked on this project without having secured the company’s agreement. After we made contact with Cerrejón, six months passed before we met representatives of its “Social Standards and International Relations” department at the company headquarters in Bogotá. The head of this department was Commissioner for Human Rights under former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, whose government wasn’t exactly known for championing human rights. We presented the film project to the company in person.
After two hours, we were given permission to film the negotiations between company representatives and the village community of Tamaquito. We asserted that “There will be no judgemental voiceover in the film and no interviews – the scenes will speak for themselves”. Indeed, this was part of the concept of the film, and perhaps it reassured the company representatives. After all, in many ways, the story’s direction lay in their hands: the resettlement of Tamaquito was to be the company’s showpiece project. Unfortunately, they fell far short of this goal.
Cerrejón refused to grant us permission to film in the company’s own coal port, Puerto Bolívar. Instead, we filmed at a port in Cienaga owned by Prodeco, a 100% subsidiary of Swiss commodity company Glencore plc. The company stipulated that we must not interview any staff and must show all footage to their press spokesperson before its release.