This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert was a member of a family of four elderly brothers, working as semi-literate farmers ... See full summary »
Shot on location in Turkey, 'Crude' takes a satirical look at patriotism, globalism, and media sensationalism. Two restless Americans in search of a bit of inspiration and adventure, ... See full summary »
Michael David Fishman
Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger will direct the film based on Mailer's Pulitzer and National Book Award winner about the 100,000-person march from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, ... See full summary »
One of the largest and most controversial legal cases on the planet. An inside look at the infamous $27 billion "Amazon Chernobyl" case, CRUDE is a real-life high stakes legal drama set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures. Presenting a complex situation from multiple viewpoints, the film examines a complicated situation from several angles while bringing a story of environmental peril and human suffering into focus. Written by
Footage not included in the documentary was later used as evidence of fraud on behalf of the plaintiffs in US courts. See more »
Protester at 2008 Chevron Shareholders meeting:
[Protester at 2008 Chevron Shareholders meeting]
In Ecuador as in Nigeria, as in Richmond, as in Iraq, as in Burma, this company chose profit over people. It's clear that this company has no moral responsibility, no ethics. And that's why we're all here.
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Out of the many films that I enjoy enough to place prominently in my Top 100 List, Crude (2009) is the only documentary that makes the cut. It isn't because its subject matter; which focuses on the price of oil contamination on indigenous populations in Ecuador. It isn't because of its cinematography which is beautiful and sympathetic. Finally, it isn't because of its particular political slant. The reason why I find Crude to be superior to all other documentaries is because it presents a very real problem faced by people far away and makes us sympathize with their plight, while acknowledging that things are complicated.
Crude is shot between 2006 and 2007 and details the complex and exhausting case of the Lago Argio oil field. Due to multiple spills, bad regulation and poor clean up on the part of Texaco (now Chevron), the area has been dubbed by many as the Amazonian Chernobyl. A class action lawsuit was brought forth by 30,000 Ecuadorians for $27 Billion dollars in 1993. Fourteen years later the case is still tied up in court.
As the film progresses, the scene always returns to an investigative study. A judge is being chaperoned by the plaintiff and defending attorneys as they investigate an oil field that has contaminated untold acres of Amazonian jungle. The lawyers present their argument to the judge and a multitude of growing crowds as they dig for soil samples which are excavated up and opened to find ugly layers of coagulated.
It is from this point that the documentary feels more like a docudrama. We meet the plaintiff lawyers Pablo Fajardo a smart but inexperienced lawyer from Ecuador and Steve Donziger, a cynical attorney hired from a powerful New York law firm. Lacking the infinitesimal budget of their defendant, Texaco Oil, the plucky lawyers globe trot from Ecuador to New York to London to Houston, all to further their cause. Meanwhile industry experts make the case that Texaco was A: not the polluter but rather Petroecuador a state-owned subsidiary with a poor track record and B: not the liable for health issues the indigenous population is suffering from as there is no connection to petroleum.
While there is a admitted bias to the documentary, director Joe Berlinger wisely shows that there are good people and bad people working on both sides of the issue. In one scene lawyer Steve Donziger irreverently prepares a Chacon Indian to speak at a Chevron stockholders meeting by essentially dictating his own statement to him. On the other hand one expert speaking for the Texaco side of things explains that she would not work for a company that knowingly hurts people or the environment. Do we believe her when she says this? Well we want to.
Additionally the basis for the court battle is admittedly tenuous as it is fought in the corrupt courts of Ecuador (U.S. judges remanded it out of their jurisdiction). You add in the issues of oil industry nationalization and local politics and you have yourself one hell of a mess.
While both sides quarrel life continues to get harder for the locals. One mother sobs as she tells the camera crew about her eighteen-year-old's bout with cancer while she, herself is sick. She tries to raise money by raising chickens but the chickens wonder down to the stream and are poisoned by the water. She desires to be compensated for her medical bills but since the contamination case has been tied up in court for more than fourteen years, she's not hopeful.
There are powerful images featured all over the movie which are hard to reason with. Every time an expert is interviewed about the conditions in Ecuador, the scene cuts back to polluted streams and dying wildlife. An indigenous woman sings a song about the destruction she has seen over the years and children are shown with marks and rashes all over their body. Its hard to process and easy to sympathize.
I won't disclose the results of the court investigation but keep in mind that the results are non-binding. That means that years of tireless effort and hard work may never bring justice to the people of Lago Argio no matter how many of Sting's entourage bring focus to the issue. Yet the quiet dignity of the Ecuadorian people will remain intact and remembered, partially thanks to the work of Joe Berlinger and Crude.
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