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Film Review: Dreams of Dust
by Mary Nyiri

Dreams of Dust (Reves de Poussière)
Director R. Laurent Slagues
France, Canada, Burkina Faso 2006

The bleak low hills of dust and brush come alive with the emergence of gold diggers as if from graves, one by one with their sacks of rocks. The location is very real: the Essakane gold mine is located in northeastern Burkina Faso. A first look at the mines by director Laurent Salgues changed his life. A few months later he returned with his first draft for a feature film. Over the years that it took to make the film, Salgues married a woman from Burkina Faso and obtained citizenship there, which enabled him to find funding for the project.

The story begins with the arrival of Mocktar Dicko at the mine. He brings only a small suitcase and his dignity. With scant instructions, he is sent to dig for gold beneath the dry earth. Dicko is a Nigerian peasant trying to bury his past as he descends daily into the crudely dug out holes, equipped with only two flashlights banded to his head, a pick and a tote bag. All the rocks are brought back to camp for sifting, then to the boss for counting and later splitting for wages. All the men contribute some of their rocks to a lovely young woman called Coumba and her small daughter. She lost her husband in the mines. Cave-ins throughout the unstable tunnels are common, but the men do what they can to save each other.

Dicko befriends the young woman and makes gifts to her daughter. We learn that he feels responsible for the death of his own daughter and he helps the widow and child as a kind of penance for his failure. There are others more selfish and some very generous, but all trying to survive the gold season under incredible, life-threatening conditions. Are their dreams but dust? Coumba seems to believe not.