By Leila Macor (AFP) – Aug 17, 2011
LOS ANGELES — Thousands of Los Angeles churchgoers chant "Hallelujah!" as Jose Henriquez, one of the famed 33 rescued Chilean miners, describes the ordeal soon to be made into a Hollywood movie.
"People think I'm a millionaire," says Henriquez, 55, who spent 69 days trapped underground with the other 32 before being pulled out in a dramatic rescue last October that transfixed millions of television viewers worldwide.
In fact, he lives on a government pension and his wife's corner shop barely covers their modest living expenses, so Henriquez passes the time welding metal and telling his story to the world.
A preacher for more than 30 years, he ministered to the trapped miners and recently recited his story in a church in Van Nuys, north of Los Angeles, before 5,000 faithful.
Henriquez has recounted his story in churches across the United States, Ireland and England, telling how the miners survived some 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground in unbearable heat and darkness.
He credits God for their survival and rescue, as the congregation watches him on two large screens mounted on either side of the podium and punctuates his speech with cries of "Hallelujah!"
Since emerging from the San Jose gold and copper mine, the miners have collectively traveled to more than 14 countries, mingled with celebrities and accepted various invitations to recount their incredible tale of survival.
But after the initial dizzying wave of publicity, the miners have gone back to leading ordinary lives, most working odd jobs and some still suffering from health conditions related to the ordeal.
This may change in future, but Henriquez prefers not to talk about Hollywood movie or book deals, saying only that he hopes they will capture the spiritual side of the miners' survival story.
"Without God, this film will not work," he told AFP, insisting he is a "simple, practical" man, who dislikes speaking to the media.
He refused to discuss how much he stood to make from the movie and book deals or what sort of compensation -- if any -- he receives for his many speaking engagements.
The contract for the film was signed in July and production is set to begin next year. The title and cast have not yet been announced.
Henriquez said producer Mike Medavoy -- of "Black Swan" and "Shutter Island" fame -- "understands well" the spiritual side of the ordeal, and that this is why the film will be the only official version of events.
The book about the miners' experience, also set to come out next year, will also touch on the role their Christian faith played in the drama, says writer Hector Tobar.
"You cannot deny the spiritual element in this," said Tobar, a columnist for the LA Times whose team won a Pulitzer Prize -- US journalism's highest honor -- in 1992, and who covered Chile for the paper from 2001 to 2005.
"There was a sense of brotherhood that was built underground," said Tobar, who interviewed 31 of the 33 miners for the book, which he said would "portray characters, like in a novel, but it's all true."
Tobar said he would explore the working-class lives of the miners, who endured hard labor under dangerous circumstances and in total obscurity until the nightmarish saga that turned them into celebrities.
"Now the men are trapped again, but in the outside world," he said.
Some of the miners still appear on television, while others give motivational speeches, as Henriquez does.
All are awaiting yet another transition when Hollywood turns the spotlight on them once again.
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