South32 Exit Route” is an anti-mine documentary by local filmmaker Michele Gisser. I saw it, then I drove down Harshaw Road to look at the site of the Australian owned South32 mine. The road goes through a free grazing land. A burro ambles across the road. Stops. Burro comes over to take a look in my car window. I scratch between his ears. His fur, so dusty, is different than a horse. This is a Patagonia moment, one of the reasons I live here over and over again. I turn my ignition on. Burro backs off.

On my way to South32 I pass seven white trucks waving little flags. They are driving like bats out of hell. It’s a 25 mile per hour speed limit.

The burro doesn’t even know the game has changed. These cars are serious. They have destinations. I wonder if he’ll be roadkill when I go back?

Getting close to the mine site, the drone photographs I saw in Gisser’s documentary become real, showing bulldozed gashes, high posts and electric lines. Wide swathes, improbable skirts, are cut out of the pink earth that two miles before contain billowing trees, high grasses. 

I reach their security gate – you’ve got to check in. I know, this is a private company, a big business. I’ll come back and ask for a tour. But for now I’ve seen enough.

This so-called underground mine looks like the product of an earthworks artist gone mad. The flesh of this earth has been butchered and sectioned. This is slaughter. My opinion, yes. But I know what I saw. Go look for yourself.

Gisser’s film propelled me down the road and that is the intention of her documentary. An accomplished film editor and maker of several previous films, she had the financial support of Wildlife Corridor LLC to make this film. Gisser is candid about their support and mutually shared intentions.

Full disclosure: Gisser, as do I, lives in Red Rock Acres which South32 has designated as one of three proposed targets for roads to take their product to market. 

Products which (know this if nothing else) this foreign owned mine doesn’t have to pay tax or royalty on.

Oil would have to pay about 12.5% royalties but an 1872 law in Arizona ensures that mineral mines (gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, etc.) pay nothing, nada. At the time, the powers that were wanted to encourage commerce. Arizona has now achieved #2 status as best place in the world to mine for minerals.

Fifteen other sites are potentially to be developed on the eastern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains.

I invited both Gisser and Tucson-based filmmaker Ginia Desmond to view this documentary, wanting input by professionals. We agree: this film is to encourage activism. This is not about whether the South32 mine exit road ends up on Gissen’s doorstep. We must care about wherever South32 intrudes. 

Gisser, with overhead footage of the mine, a barrage of facts (see this film twice) and interviews with vocal locals, makes the case that activism can work.

“This is a David and Goliath story,” said Desmond. “Everyone should see this film. Everyone.”

Patagonia’s future, if the mines are not stopped, Gisser says, is our colonization. We’ll get to live the nightmare thrust upon our Native Peoples – our land and governance taken from us. As delicious as it is to think of local white privilege turned upside down, I doubt any of us want to be overtaken by a mine. This film asserts huge trucks will dominate our highways, local roads and devastate our burgeoning eco-tourism economy. Only the experienced, in technology, in mining, will be hired.

Gisser’s film intentionally preaches to the choir, re-activating activists. Her strongest scenes show a woman cutting wood, folks living an intentional non-urban life. Gisson also focuses on local environmentalist interns, young people working with Native Seed Search educating about sustaining our patch of land.

The coda of Gisser’s film is given by a Tohono O’odham leader “In order to survive we as humans are not apart from nature. We are part of nature.”

Gisser’s documentary is a slow burn. It’s a cautionary tale that invites you to catch fire.

Me? I’m in the road with the burro.

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