LUIS ANDRES HENAO
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Actor Antonio Banderas says the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped deep underground for 69 days in 2010 taught the world a huge lesson about the value of human life.
Banderas and French actress Juliette Binoche are starring in a film that dramatizes the cave-in at the mine in Chile's Atacama desert and the globally televised rescue of the miners that mesmerized millions across the globe.
They met Friday with the miners and Chilean leader Sebastian Pinera at the presidential palace. The miners and cast, who also includes Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro and Irishman Gabriel Byrne, were received by hundreds of screaming fans outside the palace.
"Millions of people and I include myself were glued to the TV following this story as these men held to the rocks inside that mine for nearly 70 days with the only dream of getting to see sunlight again; realizing the true importance of water, of food, the look of their children, the eyes of their wives - the value of life," Banderas said.
Their survival story sent the president's popularity ratings soaring. The former airline magnate supervised the 22-hour rescue and bear-hugged the miners on their way out.
"What Antonio Banderas said is true: Chile is a better country after the miracle because I'd never seen so much unity, faith, hope and commitment," Pinera said, remembering that on a visit to Britain, even Queen Elizabeth told him that she'd stayed up all night watching the live rescue.
"The world needs hope, good news, stories that end well. And since most stories end badly, this is what people wanted: an injection of hope and faith."
Banderas stars in "The 33" as Mario Sepulveda, who known as "Super Mario," became the public face of the miners. Binoche plays Maria Segovia, the sister of a trapped miner who became known for her outgoing personality as "the mayor" of the makeshift settlement that sprang outside the mine.
The miners said it felt like an earthquake when the shaft caved in above them on Aug. 5, 2010, filling the lower corridors of the mine with choking dust. Hours passed before they could even begin to see a few steps in front of them.
For more than two weeks no one above knew that the men had survived the collapse. The 33 men had stretched a meager 48-hour store of emergency food for 17 days, eating minuscule capsules of tuna and sips of expired milk while a narrow shaft finally reached their haven and the world learned they were alive.
The small emergency shaft allowed food and water to be lowered to the miners while rescuers drilled a bigger escape hole. Finally, in the early hours of Oct. 13, the miners were hauled up one-by-one in a cage through 2,000 feet of rock.
Back on the surface, they were welcomed like heroes. They got paid trips to the Greek Islands, visited the Real Madrid stadium in Spain and even paraded at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. But the fantasy began to fade on their return home.
Many ran out of money and had to make a living in the dusty shantytowns of the desert city of Copiapo. Some began suffering from health and psychological problems.
Now, they're all banking their hopes on the Hollywood movie deal signed with "Black Swan" producer Mike Medavoy. The filming of "The 33" is set to run from Feb. 4 to March 10 at the mine. A portion of it was already filmed at a salt mine in Colombia.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao
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