Profile: Catherine Meyburgh

By Lou Baron, March 17, 2021
A profile of director, producer, and editor Catherine Meyburgh.

Blog Posting by Lou Baron, Culture and Communication ‘23, minors in Spanish and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies.

“It is the scariest place I can imagine. We went about two and a half kilometers underground. If you can imagine going down an elevator for that distance, it’s...it’s crazy. The claustrophobia, you have no idea.”

Sitting in the comfort of my tiny, rectangular dorm room in Ithaca, NY, I really can’t imagine it.

Catherine Meyburgh can.

Meyburgh is attending FLEFF as the co-director, producer and editor of the documentary film Dying for Gold. The film is available for streaming from March 29th to April 4th. 

The film explores the true cost of gold mining in South Africa, from the perspectives of families torn apart by what Meyburgh has deemed “the cartel” of profit-driven companies. 

By working on another documentary in the 1990s, Meyburgh learned of the atrocities committed in and out of South African gold mines. 

Meyburgh had long felt that the stories of these miners needed to be told, but in 2015, a new development in the lawsuit challenging The Chamber of Mines changed everything. 

It became clear that the lawsuit might be settled out of court. Meyburgh and her co-director Richard Pakleppa realized that the suffering inflicted on these miners could be buried as deep as the mines themselves.

Producing this film became urgent.

The world needs to know that nearly 800-900 miners die every YEAR in work accidents, and the lucky survivors are nearly always debilitated by tuberculosis and silicosis.

“Mines are brutal spaces.” 

It took Meyburgh and her team nearly a year to experience the dangers of these mines themselves and record their footage.

However, acquiring a significant portion of the film’s footage required a different kind of mining. 

Mining the archives.

The "cartel" unknowingly provided Dying for Gold with some of its most incriminating archival footage. Companies would recruit top notch filmmakers, haul the finest equipment down into the mines, and document the working conditions for propaganda films.

Meyburgh and her team were aware of these films, but it took a lot of scratching around to find them. She recalls that, “It was very much like that thing of finding, scratching, creaky door opening, under the stairwell…”

Eventually, they hit the jackpot. Her eyes widen as she recounts the story of finding the only copy of a never-before seen film in pristine condition.

I’m perched on the edge of my seat, hanging onto every word, when Meyburgh freezes.

Moments later, she admits that her internet has been a source of frustration as of late. In a virtual environment, the difference of connection strength between Johannesburg and Ithaca is far more problematic.

In this call alone, we’ve disconnected from each other three times.

Despite these frustrations, and a longing to connect with colleagues and friends in person, Meyburgh acknowledges that she has “...had access to film festivals that [she] would not have had access to.” 

We consider if this conversation even would have occurred without the new ubiquity of virtual communication. In non-COVID times, I may well have waited to approach Meyburgh until we naturally met in person. 

When I ask Meyburgh what she’s working on now, she is quick to mention the Justice for Miners campaign. She insists that on every possible level, from the ground we walk on to four kilos below, “Mining is an environmental disaster.”

Meyburgh implores us all to join the Justice for Miners facebook group, check out the website, and sign the petition.

“There is a lot of work to be done.” 

To virtually meet Catherine Meyburgh yourself, register for the Dying for Gold talkback on Saturday, April 3rd at 1pm.