SANTIAGO, CHILE - Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Hector Tobar says the 33 Chilean miners trapped deep underground for 69 days in 2010 were left "battle-scarred" from the ordeal, despite quickly becoming minor celebrities after their improbable rescue.
"They had lived through this event that a billion people had seen unfold on television. But what I found out when I got to speak with them was how hurt they were, how wounded they were," Tobar, whose 2014 book, "Deep Down Dark," chronicles the miners' tale, told Reuters in an interview. "They were like guys who had been through war."
The miners' rescue drew heavy international coverage, and Sebastian Pinera, Chile's president at the time, greeted the workers as they emerged from a freshly drilled shaft one by one in October 2010.
Eventually, the miners chose Tobar to author the official account of their experience. That account in turn forms the backbone of "The 33," a film about their ordeal to be released in the U.S. on November 13.
Initially, the 33 vowed to maintain a pact of silence about their time underground so no individual would profit unduly. But that scheme soon broke down, as outlets offered to pay miners for media appearances, leading some to say the survivors were being opportunistic.
For Tobar, however, who recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with the miners, such criticisms hold little merit.
"They feel like they have been treated with a lack of respect — that people sort of see them as these ordinary guys who accidentally got buried underground and hoped to get rich and famous off of it," Tobar said. "And what they hope that the movie and the book will show [their critics], will show Chile, is that they went through a war underground, that they are battle-scarred."
Tobar added that many survivors were moved to tears by "The 33," a fictionalized retelling of the miners' time underground, which was released in Chile on August 6.
"For many it was a kind of rebirth, and so to see your near-death experience and rebirth played out on the big screen was very emotional for them," he said.