WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL follows the lives and families of four sulfur miners working in Kawah Ijen, an active volcano East Java, Indonesia. Before daybreak, five hundred miners collect and carry up to 200-pound loads of pure sulfur as they trek the rocky four-kilometer path up and down the crater, amidst billowing clouds of sulfur dioxide gases. Like generations before them, they carry the sulfur to the village at the base of the volcano and unload, repeating this arduous round-trip journey several times a day. The miners sell the sulfur to the government, used in sugar and rubber refinement, for a small fee equivalent to eight dollars a day, a pittance but still more than they would make working as farmers. The subsistence wages are 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.
Even with unprecedented international attention to worker safety and mining practices, life-threatening accidents are common at Kawah Ijen and exposure to the noxious gases leads to chronic lung disease and shortened life expectancy. Over a six-month period, the film follows four families of sulfur miners, all at different stages in their careers, and the poverty they endure in the face of calamitous health concerns going unaddressed by the mine owners. WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL is a study of endurance and the power of family during the most desperate times; a portrait of systemic poverty and the costs of the modern world on its unprotected laborers.