GOLD (2016) director, Stephen Gaghan

gold-poster This film “GOLD” (2016, directed by Steven Gaghan) is currently doing the rounds of multi-plexes in Australia and might turn up in Indonesia too, (a note for my friends there.) This is because it’s loosely ( very loosely) based on the true story of the Bre-X Mining scam during the nineteen-nineties, in which a small Canadian mining company claimed to have found possibly the richest or second richest goldmine in the world, in the jungle of Kalimantan…at Busang, 360 km from the nearest airport in Samarinda and 1400 km from Jakarta. It’s a story worthy of Joseph Conrad, and contains echoes of his book “Almayer’s Folly”, set in Malaysia.

They raised vast sums by convincing no less than the J P Morgan, merchant bankers, and floating their mining company on the Canadian stock exchange. Greedy gold-crazed investors bought into it and the value of the shares sky-rocketed. Bre-X duped executives of a major gold mining company already working in Indonesia, and they even got the family of military dictator, President Suharto (starting with the eldest son, Sigit Harjoyudanto, then the daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana) to buy into it. This gave the project “clout” seeming to be bankrolled by the Indonesian government. Later the Suharto shares were transferred to Bob Hasan, the multi-millionaire forestry magnate and best pal/golfing buddy of President Suharto! He lost all of it (nothing) when the whole scam finally collapsed. It was eventually proved there was no gold, just faked core-samples which had been “salted”, in mining jargon. Bob Hasan said, “It’s good propaganda – Now everyone in the world knows where Indonesia is.”

The geologist from whom it all started, a Filipino named Michael de Guzman, fell (thought by pilot and co-pilot to have jumped) from a helicopter into the jungle below, while on a flight to meet executives from the other major mining company. A suicide note was found and he left four wives and some children with the wife in Manila. The other wives were Indonesian women, after he converted to Islam. However, in the film they show his fall from the helicopter was forced, by members of military.

The film-makers have changed most of the actual facts and details. When the Indonesian military are shown in the film, they are wearing the red berets of Kopassus, an exclusive section of serious tough guys who were then led by Prabowo Subianto, who was a Presidential Candidate several years ago, losing to Joko Widodo.

An Indonesian friend has just told me about an investigation by an Indonesian reporter in which he claimed that de Guzman is alive and living in South America. This could be possible, as the Indonesian government autopsy was reported by TIME Magazine as being very difficult because the body had been savaged by wild boars. The Suharto regime would have been in a hurry to close the embarrassing issue. The real circumstances of the death or not, of de Guzman are open to question.

To add to the disappointment, the film was shot in Thailand, and the only authentic Indonesian things were two authentic Javanese Batik textiles, and one woman in the background of a cafe, wearing a headscarf/jilbab, in not quite in the correct way for Indonesian style. The Indonesian actors were played by Thais and no Indonesian names seemed to appear in the final credits. The background of the scenes claiming to be in a Jakarta luxury hotel, were beside a wide river with obviously Thai buildings and boats in the background. No such thing exists in Jakarta. Very poor attempts at authenticity in this film, working on the assumption that no-one will notice, I guess. But that isn’t good enough in film-making these days, when many production companies and directors make a great effort towards authenticity. There wouldn’t have been anything to prevent them shooting in Indonesia, and several Hollywood films have already done so. Maybe they were afraid of revenge from still living Suharto family members depicted?

Stephen Gaghan also directed “Syriana” which was a better film. Matthew McConnaughy has gained lots of weight for the part of the miner, who plays a gullible victim of the real bad-guy, de Guzman ( played by Edgar Ramirez). Even this character is white-washed, especially by a sort of final ‘twist’.

This version of a story which proves again that truth is stranger than fiction, is weak and dull and should and could have been a whole lot more engrossing. The protagonist, Kenny Wells ( McConnaughy) is such an average and sloppy sort of guy, and only Edgar Ramirez, as the geologist/scammer saves the picture, but even he is struggling.

Note: my information about the actual events that inspired the film, have come from a TIME magazine feature article, from edition of May 19th 1997, and from my other reading at the time of these events. There’s a novel based on the same events, by Kerry B. Collison,Pub. January 2002, “Indonesian Gold”, which has recently been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, by my friend Rossie Indira. I’m not sure if it’s in publication yet…
(Copyright, Cynthia Webb) February, 2017

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About cynephilia

Lifetime student of and devourer of international Cinema. Artist, teacher, traveller - especially to my "other home", Java, Indonesia. Features writer for 14 years, for The Jakarta Post, national English language daily newspaper. I was born in New Zealand, but lived in Queensland, Australia since 1970. My profound link with Indonesia began in 1983, when visiting Bali (then an island of arts and of inspiration for an artist), and then again in 1994 when a visit to Yogyakarta, Java, began a process of that town and it's warm people becoming another home and extended family for me. Yogyakarta is the Artistic capital of Indonesia, and so it was the place for me. In 2000 I became a regular contributor about the arts for The Jakarta Post, and cinema, my lifetime passion, later began to become my focus for writing. The advent of The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) in South East Queensland, launched in 2007 gave me opportunities to meet some the great film-makers of Asia, and see their amazing work. APSA is a kind of "Oscars" for the Asia-Pacific Region.
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