The Miguel Burnier district, which belongs to Ouro Preto (MG), is the biggest contributor to the city’s treasury, but it suffers devastation due to exploratory mining caused by several companies such as Gerdau and Vale. The degradation is so great that the district, which once had a population of over 5,000 inhabitants, currently has an average of 75 inhabitants.
It is this story that the documentary “The Forgotten Portrait of Miguel Burnier” rescues, in four chapters. Guilherme Oliveira’s film, developed as a conclusion of the journalism course at the Federal University of Ouro Preto, makes an affective construction of the community developed and forgotten by the mining economy, and gives the viewer the sensation of living side by side with a cave of ore.
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“The decision to make a documentary about Miguel Burnier came about due to the need to give some return to the society of Ouro Preto and Mariana, since I left the interior of São Paulo to study in Mariana”, says the journalist. “A friend told me about Miguel Burnier, a place that, after being explored by Votorantim, even removed electricity from the place,” he says.
From the golden years to the attempt at its complete destruction, the district is a classic example of cities exploited and left to their own devices when the ore finally runs out.
“I decided to visit the district, and with each conversation I realized that for capitalism there are no limits, it doesn’t matter if there is a society. For him, the only important thing is the profit, no matter who it hurts”, concludes the film’s producer.
The Picture on the Wall, chapter 1
Miguel Burnier is the largest district in territorial extension of Ouro Preto and has its history associated with exploration of mineral resources. The district is remembered as a community that lived amidst parties, championships, health care and plenty. But currently, it suffers negative impacts from mining projects that are still carried out there.
In the Chapter “The Picture on the Wall”, the speeches are nostalgic. Each resident brings with them memories of the era of the local football team, carnival blocks and religious celebrations. These were times of plenty.
“The steel company provided jobs for a lot of people. There were around 3,000 residents at the time, with 1,500 voters alone. They always decided the municipal elections of Ouro Preto”, says resident Geraldo Vasconcelos. The number of inhabitants, according to other people heard in the documentary, reached 5,000.
The Fall of the Picture, chapter 2
After his age of abundance came the fall. Usina Barra Mansa closed and Miguel Burnier began to suffer a first decay. Without the plant, the district was left without electricity and at the mercy of public authorities. The situation became more critical when the privatization of the Estrada Ferroviária Central do Brasil took place, leaving the district isolated amid dirt roads and with difficult access to the seat of the municipality.
The documentary tells that, 11 years after the closing of the Barra Mansa Plant, Gerdau begins to explore iron ore in the region, but without the intention of building an intimate relationship with the community. On the contrary, the company created projects for the community to leave the district.
Social relationships have broken down. The cultural activities promoted by the community were suppressed, the club became part of the mine operation, the soccer field became a storeroom and the ore processing plant area occupied the space between the main church and the cemetery.
Royalties were paid to the Ouro Preto City Hall by Gerdau and other companies operating in the region, but the necessary improvements for the district were not carried out and Miguel Burnier was abandoned by the government.
Sweeping the Shards, Chapter 3
The effect of Gerdau’s mining was overwhelming and divided the community into two sides: one that defended the permanence and culture of the place and sought to restore what was experienced, and another that wanted the end of Miguel Burnier, ceded his lands and received compensation for the company.
The construction of a dam in the district became a nightmare for the community, the documentary shows, and a tragedy loomed. The heavy rains in 2011 caused the dam to break and take the access road to the church with native forest. The toxic sludge went straight to the tributaries of the Paraopeba River and the case was not reported by the media.
The environmental damage goes beyond the dam failure. During iron mining, the miners removed water from the areas under exploration, causing the lowering of the water table and, consequently, the drying up of streams and springs.
There was also damage to Miguel Burnier’s heritage. Ancient and sacred works were stolen and structures destroyed. Thus, the place began to run the risk of losing its cultural strength, but it has resisted so far in the district.
Gluing the Pieces together, chapter 4
With a larger foundry and a little away from the center of Miguel Burnier, Usina Wigg, installed in 1969, brought the need for a large number of employees and, consequently, the increase in the number of residences in the district.
However, today Miguel Burnier is very different from the time of the population boom. Chapter 4 — Gluing the Cacos shows what is left in the community and highlights community actions to rescue its assets and maintain its culture. One of the actions is the Estação Cultura Project, which transformed the train station into a library and space for cultural activities.
There are still several properties in a situation of abandonment, and as much as the community demands that they be restored to the Public Ministry, they continue to be thrown over time. This is the case of eighteenth-century churches, caves, houses and buildings such as the Wigg Plant itself.
Source: BoF Minas Gerais
Edition: Rafaella Dotta