Where Heaven Meets Hell

2012 / 80 and 52 min versions / US and Indonesia

In East Java, Indonesia lies Kawah Ijen, an active volcano that houses a grueling, labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. Before daybreak, five hundred independent miners begin to collect and haul loads of up to 200lbs. of pure sulfur. They trek up a treacherous four-kilometer path out of the crater, engulfed in billowing clouds of sulfur dioxide gases. They then climb down to the village at the base of the volcano and unload, only to repeat the round trip journey several times before the day ends.

The miners sell the sulfur for subsistence wages equivalent to eight dollars a day, barely enough for food and basic needs, but insufficient to cover schooling costs for their children. Unfortunately this lack of education perpetuates the cycle of poverty, which prevents future generations from breaking away from the mine. Without their high school diplomas, no job opportunities await these miners within their communities. Making slightly more money than they would be making if they were to stay in their villages to farm, they continue mining in hopes of building financial security for their families, and ensuring that their sons will not become miners at Kawah Ijen. However, it’s not enough – the added income will never pull their families out of poverty, their children will continue to work in the mines, and generation after generation will follow the same path.

Even in times of unprecedented international attention to human rights, life-threatening accidents are common and exposure to the noxious gases leads to chronic lung disease, and shortened life expectancy. Sulfur is a vital component in the production of sugar, rubber, cosmetics, matches, and fertilizers. This film will give viewers a deeper understanding of what goes into the manufacturing of products they use daily.

Over a six-month period, this film follows four miners and their families, all at different stages in their lives and careers. Where Heaven Meets Hell is a study of endurance and the sustaining power of faith, love and family through desperate times; a portrait of endemic poverty and the costs of modernity on unprotected laborers.


Director: Sasha Friedlander


IDFA -Official Selection
Hot Docs - Official Selection
Winner Halekulani Golden Orchid Award Documentary Feature Hawaii International Film Festival 2012
Hong Kong International Film Festival 2012 -Golden Firebird Award
VC FilmFest - Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2012