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Threaten to destroy a Transylvanian town

WIDE ANGLE Reports on a Community Divided by the Allure of Wealth and the Fear of Environmental Disaster.

Gold futures premieres Tuesday, August 21 At 9 P.M. As WIDE ANGLE Continues Its Sixth Season On PBS. “It’s been six years since they began terrorizing us into moving,” says a resident of Rosia Montana, a 2000-year-old village in the mountains of Romania. “They wanted to buy everyone and everything. But we didn’t go and we won’t go.”

Tucked away in the Transylvanian mountains, a David-and-Goliath story is unfolding in the picturesque village of Verespatek (Rosia Montana). At stake is Europe’s largest deposit of gold ore – and a mining town that has existed since the ancient Romans found rich veins of gold and silver in the mountainside. In Gold Futures, WIDE ANGLE profiles rural farmers and townspeople confronting a choice, as a Canadian company prepares to excavate a massive open-pit gold mine where their village still stands.

Hungarian film-maker Tibor Kocsis is cinematographer, director and editor of Gold Futures, and has been following the story of Rosia Montana for more than five years. The investor, Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company whose subsidiary, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), was granted a l7-year lease on the mining field estimated to contain 300 tons of gold and l600 tons of silver.

While the company awaits a final decision from the Romanian government on whether its environmental impact assessment meets stringent EU standards, it has launched an advertising campaign highlighting its high-tech, environmentally cautious approach to mining and promising up to l200 jobs – welcome news to a village where the average wage is only about $3 a day. “What we are planning to do is to redevelop the area with modern mining practice, modern environmental management,” says John Aston, Vice President of RMGC.

But villagers like 53-year-old Eugen Cornea are challenging the multinational gold corporation’s ambitious plans with a “they can’t buy us with their money” campaign. The retired topographer, who worked for 30 years in the local state-run mine in Romania’s communist days, is now vice president of Alburnus Maior, an NGO opposing the new development. “May God put them in my situation, and let them bury their only child,” says Margit Buran, a protestor who stands her ground beside her family’s tombstones, fearful that her only son – who died at age 18 – may have to be exhumed when the local cemetery is displaced.

Those who oppose the mine also fear the environmental risks that come with mineral excavation. The new, privately owned mine will operate on a vastly larger scale than the former state-run operations; and a cyanide-leaching process will be introduced to the site for the first time. RMGC’s planned use of cyanide raises flags for some wary villagers who fear an environmental disaster like the one that occurred in 2000, when a ruptured dam at a nearby mine unleashed toxic cyanide sludge into the river system, contaminating the drinking water of millions of people and killing more than 1200 tons of fish downriver in Hungary.

In addition to the threat of pollution, the project will mean the displacement of the entire village and all its residents. Excavation of the new one-mile-wide mine can’t begin until hundreds of houses and nearby shops, churches and even graveyards are demolished. Close to half of the villagers have accepted the company’s buy-out offers, some saying they consider Rosia Montana Gold Corporation as the only hope left for the area.

“Gold is the only source of income here,” commented one villager. “You can’t live off rosehips, elderberries and sunflower seeds.” Against the stunning backdrop of misty forests and quiet village streets, WIDE ANGLE captures the conflict between the impoverished residents who welcome the company’s buy-out offers and their neighbors who remain fiercely defensive of their way of life and anxious to maintain the pristine landscape of their homeland. (press release)