Being a documentary short film, Nobody Dies Here uses its brief runtime wisely, in that it doesn’t race to pack in as much information as possible, so much as it attempts to create a mood and a sense of place. Through a series of isolated perspectives, presented to the audience objectively, we learn about the Perma gold mine in Benin, a West African country, and the lives affected.
The mine has resulted in something of a gold rush, although not everyone is looking to get rich. Some people just want a day’s salary to buy food and necessities with—they’re essentially living discovery-to-discovery, as others might live paycheck-to-paycheck. On the other hand, there are those looking to get rich, and many die to do so, as the mine is notoriously dangerous. Nonetheless, it remains a popular destination. In the same way, a casino draws people in with the mere possibility—however slight—of instantaneous wealth, so does the mine prove irresistible to the desperate and the daydreamers.
“…the film places the viewer in a distinct state-of-mind, unlike anything else.”
Accentuating its series of testimonies is footage of the actual mine, which is little more than some holes in the ground. And yet, they are striking, if only for their apathetic, unexceptional appearance, which stands in stark contrast to what they represent. Simon Panay, the director, gracefully films the cold, craggy mountain where the mine is found, capturing its inherent irony of appearing so hopeless, yet being a location where so many hang their hopes. In fact, the cinematography is so dreamily arresting, I was frequently missing subtitles and having to rewind.
As the film stays relatively objective—until a revelation toward the end of the film, which paints everything in a paler color—it succeeds more as a stoic piece of journalism, rather than as a dynamic movie. For instance, Panay chooses not to delve into some of the moral grey areas apparent with the mine. While it’s easy to see the “miners” as being taken advantage of, the mountain does offer them a degree of hope, which can mean everything to one without. I’m not making a case for this point of view, but simply a case for its exploration, or the exploration of anything other than the driest of facts.
By way of its cinematography, Nobody Dies Here places the viewer in a distinct environment, unlike anything else. By way of its interviews with the mine’s optimistic prospectors and disillusioned ex-prospectors, the film places the viewer in a distinct state-of-mind, unlike anything else. It does this without excessive exposition or first-person pontificating, but purely through the medium of film.
Nobody Dies Here (2016) Directed by Simon Panay.
3 out of 4