Despite film buzz, life grim for some of Chile's hero miners

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Despite film buzz, life grim for some of Chile's hero miners

Santiago (AFP) - The Chilean miners who became celebrities after months trapped underground are now immortalized in a Hollywood film starring Antonio Banderas -- but for some, real life has had no happy ending.

Five years on, with movie "The 33" hitting screens across the United States on Friday, men who lived through the ordeal and their families are struggling on with lives of little glamour.

"We have felt abandoned from the start," said Jessica Cortes, wife of one of the miners, Victor Zamora.

"I have lived through these anxious years with him day after day, seeing how he gets depressed at not finding a job and at feeling cheated," she told AFP.

The miners' tale of survival warmed hearts worldwide. For the media, it was a tale of friendship and triumph in adversity.

But squabbles and contrasting fortunes have since divided the heroic 33.

Some went on to build successful lives, including Luis Urzua, the foreman of the group working in the San Jose copper mine when it collapsed.

Urzua says he and some of his companions have managed to get work with big mining groups and are better off now than before the accident.

But others struggle to find work and say they have been cheated out of the Hollywood dollars being made from their story.

"They have been seriously affected as workers," said Alberto Iturra, a psychologist who treated the miners.

"They think that at any moment they are going to be laid off and stop working, or worse, that they will be unable to cope with the stress."

- Mixed fortunes -

With two children aged four and nine, Zamora is as poor now as he was before the mining accident. He lives in social housing off odd jobs and a state allowance of $450 a month, awarded to the eldest of the 33 miners.

In March a fresh disaster hit his family: a storm destroyed their home and left them in the street.

In "The 33," Banderas stars as the charismatic Mario Sepulveda, who acted as one of the leaders of the group, helping to keep their spirits up until they were rescued in October 2010.

Sepulveda is among those who have prospered since climbing out of the mine: he has launched a construction business and a charitable foundation.

But others in the group have not benefited from the fame their ordeal brought them, and are bitter at the way they have been treated.

"Each of them has his own story. Each had his own experience," said Sepulveda.

- Legal squabble -

Disputes have broken out, in particular, about contracts for managing the rights to their story.

Urzua was among several miners who attended a premiere of "The 33" in Hollywood this week, ahead of its general US release on November 13. The movie has been rolled out across Latin America since August, and heads to Asia and Europe over the coming months.

The ex-foreman has also led a group of nine miners who sued their lawyers this month, accusing them of cheating them out of money from the rights to their story, including earnings from the film.

Sepulveda took issue with his comrades' lawsuit, saying they were being "led astray by people who haven't read the contracts properly."

But Victor Zamora insisted: "The division we have within the group is because of what the lawyers have done to us."

After emerging from the mine before the cameras of the world's media, the miners traveled around the world telling their story.

Each of them received a gift of $7,000 from Leonardo Farkas, an eccentric Chilean mining entrepreneur.

One of them even found love waiting for him in the light at the top of the mineshaft.

A German woman watching the drama on television fell in love with miner Daniel Herrera and contacted him online. They are now married and living together in Chile.