Price of Gold Film - documentary Preis des Goldes

U.S: Theatrical Premier of PRICE OF GOLD

publicity quotes:

“Surreal portrait of hardscrabble lives and omnipresent risk.” — The New York Times

“Beautifully photographed.” — Hollywood Reporter.





ARTE - Dokumentarfilmpreis 2012

Duisburger Filmwoche 2012


Toronto 2012 · World Showcase

the year's finest non-fiction films from around the world


Dokfilmwoche Hamburg 2013 · Beldocs 2012 · Belgrad

Brooklyn Filmfestival 2012 · New York






Price of Gold · cinema documentary about the real price of gold

Gold – the most popular investment product in today’s world. The documentary is the first to film illegal gold-diggers in Mongolia carrying out their dangerous work in the Gobi. In amazingly intimate shots, Sven Zellner shows us the men who experience the real »price of gold« at the other end of the world. An archaic male-dominated society in previously untouched regions of the earth, which is becoming disjointed not least as a result of the triumphant progress of the so-called »free market economy«. While the speculative market value of gold in the Western world seems to bear no relation to any tangible yardsticks anymore, the film describes in very direct and stark images what it means to prospect for gold by hand, be it just for a few grams.





Ein Presslufthammer bricht in die Stille der Wüste. Eine sanfte Stimme erklärt, wie man Dynamit präpariert. Eine Frau lächelt und versteckt die Messer, damit die Männer sich nicht abstechen.
Wir bewegen uns zwischen zwei Achsen: dem Horizont der Wüste Gobi und der Vertikalen eines Schachtes. Im Schnittpunkt dieser Achsen: 2 Bosse, 3 Arbeiter und eine Köchin - eine Gruppe von Desperados in einer Goldgräber-Saga.
Aber anders als in Amerika sind sie keine Siedler, die nach fremden Schätzen suchen, sondern befinden sich in ihrem eigenen Land. Und diesem Land und sich selbst fügen sie bei vollem Bewusstsein Wunden zu: sie vergiften ihren Körper mit Staub und Quecksilber und verletzen die spirituelle Ordnung, in dem sie sich in die Eingeweide ihrer Felsen schlagen.

Mit souveräner Sorgfalt erzählen die Filmemacher von der Aussichtslosigkeit der Arbeit der Goldgräber. Die Wüste ist eine leere Bühne und auf dieser Bühne arrangieren sie die wenigen Requisiten äußerst präzis zu einer Geschichte der Gewalt, die allerdings wie die selbstgebauten Dynamitstangen immer wieder in der Stille Gobis erstickt. Interviews verdichten die Filmemacher zu inneren Monologen, die dem Film eine ergreifende poetische Kraft verleihen. Die Kamera macht aus der Schwierigkeit, sich im Staub der Goldmühle und der enge der Schächte zu bewegen, ihre größte Stärke und schafft Bilder mit überwältigendem physischen Ausdruck.

Der Arte-Preis geht an "Preis des Goldes".

10. November 2012, die Jury: Philipp Mayrhofer, Hannah Pilarczyk, Nele Wohlatz






The vast desert landscape of the Gobi gives you the impression of untouched nature. Thirty meters under the earth, however, in the pit of an illegal goldmine, there is total darkness. A compressor pipe is the only means of communication with the people at the entrance of the mine. Khuyagaa, the illegal gold-digger or, as they are called here, the ninja, shouts into the pipe: “Take a good look at the rocks to see whether there are any traces of gold or not!” Then he takes the pneumatic hammer and continues working on a vein of gold on the ceiling. Dust and rocks rain down on him. “Gold is a gamble,” says Khuyagaa. He is digging with four other men who used to be nomads. At the head of the group are two undisputed leaders. Usukhuu Akh, who has a dreadful scar across his face, the result of a knife fight, is one of them. And Ochiroo Akh, who swears a lot and puts everyone in a bad mood, is the second boss. Khuyagaa is the foreman. And that means he works the hardest of them all, and he is the only one who does the most difficult part of the work. He is the one who has to go down into the gallery to prepare the blasting with sticks of dynamite. He dreams of finding enough gold so that he can finally quit illegal gold-digging and do something else one day, of finding a job with a steady income and less danger.
The big companies have long split the mining rights for gold in Mongolia among themselves. Everyone knows that. But as nomads they believe that it’s their land and no one may take any of it. They feel cheated. Ochiroo Akh says: “We want a handful of earth of the country that we grew up in.” It’s a fight for survival. Usukhuu Akh tells us: “We have no other choice. We are poor, life in Mongolia is poor.” Not only the illegality is dangerous. Digging for gold as they do involves underground blasting with inadequate means. Yet Khuyagaa still goes down into the mines with a couple of sticks of dynamite. One wrong move and his worries will be over. And so will his life. For him, that has become a part of his everyday life and probably won’t change anymore either. And with the mercury used in gold extraction, the ninjas are poisoning their environment and destroying the basis for the nomads’ livelihood. They hardly ever become rich from searching for gold. More likely they become even poorer, poison themselves or die in an accident. And nevertheless they keep digging so that they can live a life of freedom under the skies of their ancestors.


93 min (24 fps 35 mm print)

HD + 35 mm

Sven Zellner

Chingunjav Borkhuu

Sven Zellner

Sven Zellner,
Uisenma Borchu

Maximilian Plettau,

Bayerischer Rundfunk
FFF FilmFernsehFonds Bayern





There’s a gold rush in Mongolia, and much like the North American gold rushes at the turn of the 20th century, it has become a capitalist free-for-all where concern for the individual or the environment takes a backseat to the profit margin. Foreign corporations have mined the Mongolian land, but now close to 100.000 rogue Mongolian nomads, known as Ninjas, have begun prospecting for the leftovers. Small independent crews, without the aid of modern technology or equipment, risk their lives digging for a small piece of the action. It’s their land, after all, and they want in on the profit. Price of Gold follows a crew of brave and desperate Ninjas on their illegal digs in the Gobi desert. Stunning cinematography illustrates the vast landscape and claustrophobic conditions of the DIY mines navigated by the determination, ingenuity and utter insanity of this remarkable crew. Lynne Crocker




The New York Times


Nomads Looking for Leftovers, the Precious Kind
‘Price of Gold’ Follows Mongolian Prospectors


For more than a decade, Mongolian nomads have been illegally prospecting for gold in the Gobi Desert, gleaning the leftovers of the international mining companies that own the mineral rights. In “Price of Gold,” the directors Sven Zellner and Chingunjav Borkhuu observe a ragtag crew of five of these wildcatters, piecing together a noncommittal, occasionally surreal portrait of hardscrabble lives and omnipresent risk.

“We take what is ours,” one worker says, his attitude hovering somewhere between shame and defiance. Crudely equipped with battered shovels, an ancient drill and a wheezing, hand-cranked compressor, the crew digs and bickers. Downtime is spent wrestling one another and harassing the cheerful woman who cooks for them (and who has the foresight to hide their knives when they drink). The illicit nature of the work requires bribes of vodka to the police and to possible informants; but, as we see, there are more pressing dangers.

Against a background of saffron dust and violet mountains, Mr. Zellner’s camera peers into a terrifyingly narrow mine shaft and watches as a worker packs dynamite, a cigarette dangling nonchalantly from his lips. Fingers paddling in the mercury that’s used to loosen gold from rock, another man patiently sifts sludge for signs of glinting particles. With few alternative means of generating income, the crew members are pragmatic about the hazards of an operation held together with spit and string, and our explosives specialist isn’t stressed.

“It’s better to die serenely,” he says, confidently. If you say so.




PETER DEBRUGE Chief International Film Critic

Unsentimental portrait of Mongolian gold-diggers leaves emotional stone unturned.

German photojournalist Sven Zellner spent four years living among Mongolian nomads, generating a scrappy portrait of half a dozen renegade gold-diggers who’ve abandoned the region’s traditional herding lifestyle in hopes of exploiting precious metals left behind by corporate mining companies with “Price of Gold.” Wrestling dynamite, a defiant old generator and toxic quantities of mercury, these surly outlaw types talk of “freedom” and claiming what’s rightfully theirs in a system that’s stripped the Gobi Desert’s already-limited resources and reduced them to dangerous work for scant rewards.

Contrary to the more affecting Nat Geo style seen in “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” Zellner’s approach to observing contempo Mongolian hardship remains curiously unsentimental toward the individuals he witnesses, with only the woman who cooks for this ill-behaved gang leaving much of an impression. Pic suggests the rigorous labor of classic California gold prospectors minus the wild-west excitement, alternating between grim verite observation (where the camera plunges down cramped crawlspaces to capture drilling at close range) and self-aware testimonials, as the subjects mug for the benefit of German auds.







Price of Gold: Always More Desert to Mine

By AARON CUTLER Thursday, Sep 12 2013

Globalization's growth has shrunk the world's need for local labor. In many countries with large rural populations, herding and farming families find their work dwindling while foreign enterprises claim resources faster and in greater quantities than the natives possibly can. Mongolia—in which Sven Zellner's documentary Price of Gold takes place—is an example. Among the landlocked, largely desert nation's chief natural resources is gold, the mining rights to which have been seized and divided by international companies, making it illegal for Mongolians to excavate their own soil. The scant income to be earned from animal meat and fur, however, often leaves them with little choice.

Price of Gold focuses on a small group of "ninjas," the popular name for the roughly 100,000 nomadic Mongolians who illegally dig for gold today in the Gobi Desert. The film's six human subjects—two organizers, three younger manual diggers and a woman responsible for the most cooking she has ever done—appear in the south Gobi performing daily routines. While most ninjas dig at the surface level, this group goes farther, using dynamite underground. We see the bosses providing coil, helmets and tools to the workers, who then descend into dark pits to drill at quartz, empty their haul into the light, crush it into dust and sift.

A day's work might, at best, yield a handful of gold, to be eventually sold on the black market or to large companies at a discount. Nighttime brings on meals eaten in a circle within a shared tent, with the bosses sometimes still agitated from how the day has gone. Then the film cuts to black, and the next day arrives.

The movie grew out of the four years German debut filmmaker Zellner (who co-directed Price of Gold with Mongolian journalist/guide/translator Chingunjav Borkhuu) spent in Mongolia photographing these men and their families, resulting in a photographic exhibition titled Ninjas. The still photos often catch in-process workers regarding the camera, their faces filled with haunting poetry, as though existing both within a specific moment and somehow outside of time.

In Price of Gold, by contrast, the men's faces often vanish as they go underground, threatened with permanent disappearance: the risk of dynamite bursting early, or of rope breaking and leaving them trapped. The filmmakers find those faces again in private interviews aboveground, each miner sitting away from the others to discuss how he feels about the job. A young man named Eegii wishes that his superiors would be easier on him; one of them, Ochiroo Akh, longs for the right to a handful of his own soil. Both sadly accept how the damage they do to the land violates their religion, which will keep them social outcasts.

The ninjas are occasionally seen wrestling or throwing stones at bottle targets, and a sense emerges of the men playing to distract themselves from tedious despair. They do not want to be doing this forever, though their situation looks unlikely to improve. Price of Gold's last scene takes place 273 days after its opening, with Ochiroo Akh in debt to his workers, who are still digging. Meanwhile, mercury contaminates the air of a desert that, as with global wealth, is expanding.





Gold: today's most popular investment product. This astounding film is the first to document the illegal gold-diggers in Mongolia's Gobi Desert risking their lives for a few grams of the precious mineral. While the speculative market value of gold in the Western world holds little relation to any tangible yardstick, the film describes in very direct and stark images what it means to prospect for gold by hand, in brutal conditions eerily reminiscent of the California Gold Rush during the late 19th- century. In amazingly intimate shots, Sven Zellner shows us the people at the other end of the world who pay the real price of gold. (c) Maysles Center   The setting is the Gobi Desert, a barren, golden landscape where desperate Mongolian nomads, known as “ninjas,” search for leftover gold veins that the giant international mining companies might have overlooked when they swept through the area years ago. The equipment is crude. The language is foul. They treat women (there is one female cook) like chattel, and each other like dirt. Sven Zellner, an accomplished photographer, spent years earning the trust of this scrappy group, which he follows into the claustrophobic shafts and the cramped quarters of the makeshift tent. His cinematography is breathtaking, and he drives home the inherent dangers of this illegal trade. Gayle MacDonald, The Globe and Mail




    Hay una fiebre del oro en Mongolia, y al igual que la fiebre del oro en estados Unidos que sucedió en el siglo XX, se ha convertido en capitalismo "tomar por todo" donde la preocupación por el individuo o el medio ambiente se pone al margen. Corporaciones extranjeras han explotado las tierras de Mongolia, pero ahora cerca de 10.000 nómadas mongoleses, conocidos como Ninjas, han comenzado a hacer prospecciones de lo que queda. Pequeños grupos independientes, sin conocimiento de tecnología moderna o equipos, arriesgan sus vidas excavando por una pequeña pieza. Son sus tierras, después de todo, y ellos quieren algo del beneficio. "Price of gold" sigue a un grupo de Ninjas valientes y desesperados en sus excavaciones ilegales en el Desierto del Gobi. La increíble cinematografía ilustra el vasto paisaje y condiciones claustrofobicas de las minas DIY navegadas por la determinación, la ingenuidad y la locura absoluta de este extraordinario equipo.