Rescued Chilean miners say they have been tricked out of film royalties

Several of rescued men claim they were tricked out of royalties as contract dispute mars film

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 5:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 5:53am

When 33 Chilean miners were hauled to the surface after 69 days trapped in a collapsed copper mine in 2010, more than a billion people around the world tuned in to watch as the rescue was broadcast live on television.

It was inevitable, then, that the dramatic story would be made into a movie. But just weeks before filming is set to begin for a multimillion-dollar Hollywood film starring Antonio Banderas and Martin Sheen, the miners are locked in a bitter legal dispute over the contract in which they signed away their rights for life.

Several of the men, including Luis Urzua, who was foreman of the group at the time of the mine collapse, claim they were tricked out of royalties by lawyers and abandoned by the Chilean justice system.

"We have to fix our affairs with the lawyers and with the [movie] producer that is in the United States. With the march of time, we have had various complications with respect to our life story," said Urzua. "I don't think we are going to make a movie and then later realise we feel bad [because] our rights were infringed."

Over the past months the miners have divided into two factions. One - led by Urzua - has complained that they were pressured into signing the contracts, which were available only in English. The other group said the contracts were also drawn up in Spanish and were the result of a group vote.

Urzua, who is president of the miners' group "The 33 of Atacama", said the men did not oppose the making of the movie, but said: "We are against what happened with our contracts, how they were developed and how they are at this point.

Mario Sepulveda, who acted as the miners' spokesmen in videos recorded underground, has also protested against the contracts.

He is to be played by Banderas in the movie, but when the Spanish star visited Chile last month Sepulveda refused to meet him because of the legal battle.

The legal fray is focused in part on who retains the long-term rights to key elements of the rescue, including a private diary kept by the miners, and still unknown details about the initial 17 days of the entrapment.

Despite the miners' misgivings over the legal agreements, shooting is set to begin this month in Colombia, where the underground sequences - including the cave in which the men were trapped - are to be filmed inside a disused mine. Other scenes are to be shot in Chile. The film will be filmed in English.

Jennifer Lopez dropped out of the project earlier this year.

The controversy over the miners' life rights is just the latest in a series of battles the men have faced since their rescue.

Many still complain of nightmares, flashbacks and a host of psychological traumas, and few have been able to secure steady employment.