|Index||8 reviews in total|
This documentary about the Chevron-Texaso case and the struggle of a
small law company trying to win a lawsuit against this oil giant and
force them to take responsibility for the ecologic catastrophe they
left behind when drilling oil in the Ecuador Amazon rainforest, leaving
behind open or poorly sanitized oil pit holes, near or on top of – yes,
you heard me, on top of – which people live and suffer from severe
illnesses such as cancer, leukemia, or severe skin problems as a
Amazing documentary, amazing story, which has so much reminded me of the courageous fight of David against Goliath combined with a sprinkle of Erin Brockowich. Amazing how a few can move mountains to help total strangers at a country far away from their ordinary world...
In the past 15 (or so)years,Joe Berlinger has certainly crafted his share of eye opening,edgy documentaries. From 'Brothers Keeper',to 'Paradise Lost',and 'Metallica:Some Kind Of Monster'(all co-directed with Bruce Sinofsky),and now,'Crude'. The film concerns a village in Amazonian South America (located in Ecuador)that attempts to take the oil giant,Chevron to court to sue for environmental damage & the mass destruction it has done to both the infrastructure,as well as the cancer that has resulted in Chevron's dumping of toxic oil spills in the water supply for the people who live in the various villages there. We get to view the talking heads on both sides of the argument (the villagers,the environmental advocates,as well as the oil companies and their scuzzy,bottom feeding, corporate ambulance chasers that back them up). Along the way,we are also treated to some vintage clips from Chevron's promotional films,which were generally screened to their stock holders at various meetings over the years,with countless misleading messages. As with other documentaries directed by Berlinger,some unpleasant video footage of the horrors of environmental rape brought on by careless dumping of toxic materials are to be expected (this is NOT a film for munching popcorn by,so be prepared). Spoken in Spanish with English subtitles,as well as English. Not rated by the MPAA,but contains some upsetting footage of the devastation of environmental damage & the horrors that result. Not a good choice for small children.
In Joe Berlinger's film Crude, we're privy to a situation that has
spiraled out of control and how a battle is waging between lawyers on
two sides. On one side are the Ecuadorians who in 1993 filed a lawsuit
against Texaco (now Chevron) for their hazardous practices while
drilling for oil by spilling all over (ultimately far more than Exxon
Valdez) and contaminating the water that the locals drank and bathed
in. They sought (still seek, actually) just some responsibility,
something on their end that "hey, we screwed up, we'll clean it up,"
and eventually in recent years given representation by Pablo Fajardo, a
tough Ecuadorian lawyer, and some American back-up lawyers.
On the other side, of course, are the corporate lawyers for Chevron, who claim two contradictory things: there's the Chevron environment scientist who says that there is no contamination, the people are getting cancer from other things, no sewage treatment, people get sick all the time, etc, don't blame us - and there's the local Chevron Ecuadorian lawyers who say, 'yeah, there is contamination, but not by us, look at Petro-Ecuador, who came after we left, it's all them.' It comes down to a blame game that, finally, after years of struggle, gets to a trial level in Ecuador. But this, as we see in Crude, has its problems too - not least of which from corruption in the law system, and judge(s) inundated with information to process from the case.
What makes Crude so powerful a document, and an indictment of a mighty beast like an oil corporation that is in fact one of the largest corporations in the world, is that Berlinger doesn't need to amp up the agitprop. We see the Chevron scientist or lawyers try their best to describe how things aren't bad, or so bad, or that it's not their fault, and all Berlinger has to do is show the local Ecuadorians living right by the water, too poor to move or to be able to get enough money form their livestock who die off immediately (and asking "where are all the fish" answers itself), the mother who has two children lost to cancer, and shots, very straightforward, of, yes, contaminated oil wells and ponds and places that no one should have to put up with. Berlinger gets his best material from these horrid images, set against the backdrop of an otherwise gorgeous Amazon jungle and rain-forest.
It's also a gripping legal drama, and one that we see gains some public-attention traction following a Vanity Fair article in their 'Green Issue' and a subsequent interest from Trudie Styler and her husband Sting (more so Styler, who goes to Ecuador and sees the anguish of the people and the sites of the oil spills). But one may be filled with a possibly cynical sense of dread; for all of the hope one may have in this case, that David will for once beat Goliath and that the things the American lawyer are saying will come true, it's real life and not the movies (albeit as a movie here) and it's nail-biting to see how it will turn out, that despite all of the attention and media buzz thanks to Sting, it won't work out for the Ecuadorians because, well, it's a damn oil monster they're up against.
As it turns out, it's really a credit to Berlinger and his crew that he can present such a story with a clear eye and head and, indeed, be fair on both sides (granted, there is only so much access an oil company in litigation will give to a low-budget documentarian), and lets the audience see what the case is all about. And, perhaps expectedly, the ultimate bittersweet note by the end is that of a double-sided coin: an independent investigator may find overwhelming proof of contamination and the need for compensation for the victims and people and lands... but the case still needs to end, and as it stands, the investigation is ongoing. It's a harrowing saga of human rights.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joe Berlinger's "Crude" follows the campaign of several litigators as
they work on behalf of the people of Ecuador to win a class action
lawsuit against Texaco oil.
"Crude" begins in 1964, with Texaco's arrival in Ecuador. In 1972 the company begins working in the Lago Agrio oil fields, actions which slowly usurp the lives of the indigenous populace. Over the decades, Texaco leaks toxins and waste into neighbouring rivers, which of course lead to mutations, deaths and disease. Texaco subsequently transforms into a mega-corp called Chevron. Later the Lago Agrio fields are handed over to a company called PetroEcuador.
At its best, "Crude" maps a dispiriting, daunting, decades-long campaign against a mega-corporation with seemingly infinite resources at its disposal. Elsewhere Berlinger teases out Chevron's ingrained hypocrisy, several of its spokesmen deeply steeped in denial. The company would later accuse "Crude" of being dishonest propaganda, the documentary's claims based on bribery and coercion. While there is some truth in these claims - Ecuador's government are as complicit as Texaco, and most of the "environmental lawyers" Berlinger shows us are acting wholly out of self-interest - this does not absolve Chevron of blame.
8/10 See "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace".
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.
If you have not seen CRUDE yet, get to the closest theater. It is a
near perfect documentary of an incredible story.
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger leads us through a tale that combines a legal thriller, an environmental outrage, a cultural crisis, a buddy pic, and even pulls in some rock you out of your seats concert footage. Rarely does any film have so many dimensions delivered in such an effective and riveting package.
Following the crusade of an Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron for 2 of its 14 years, we are guided by the oddest legal couple you can imagine. Pablo the young, fresh and determined Ecuadorian hero seems at times too young and too nice for the fight he is in. That is until you hear him passionately address the issues of the case. He embodies innocence and tenacity in a very Jimmy Stewart ala 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', style. His partner is Steven, a big, bold, brash New York lawyer whose bombastic style is as entertaining as it is effective. We are brought close in to the tragic pollution of a once pristine rainforest, and are moved to tears at the plight of the beautiful ancient peoples devastated by same. From the eco/cultural travesty, to the arcane workings of the Ecuadorian legal system, to the power and ruthlessness of a major multinational corporation, there is so much provocative material in this film that days after the showing, I am still processing, and discussing it.
Berlinger's gift in this movie is that he does not deliver a conclusion to the audience, rather he presents both sides of the story and provokes the viewer to real thought on the issues. While it is clear that he sees a moral imperative that Chevron accept responsibility and that the people get help, Berlinger does not beat you over the head with a message movie. He makes you ponder the complexities and own your own opinion. If he ever stops making films, which I hope he does not, he would make a great college professor.
Watch for this excellent film to be in the mix at Oscar time.
From the March 4 ruling against Stephen Donziger and others by U.S.
District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan. (LAP means Lago Agrio plaintiffs):
The documentary film called Crude was made because Donziger in 2005 recruited film maker Joe Berlinger to portray the LAPs' case against Chevron. The film featured Donziger quite prominently. Donziger provided Berlinger, cameraman Mike Bonfiglio, and other crew members expansive access to himself, his team and some of its activities for nearly the next three years. The ultimate product, Crude, first was released in January 2009.
The Crude team's independence from Donziger and the LAPs' lawyers to the extent there was any at all was limited. For one thing, Donziger recruited the film's main source of funding: his former classmate Russell DeLeon. As Donziger wrote: "Russ is funding the case. Russ is funding the movie. And Russ wants to fund more cases and more movies." Through his creation and sole ownership of a production company called Crude Investment, Inc., Deleon contributed approximately 60 percent of the film's total funding.
Nonetheless, just as they had done with Cabrera, Donziger and his team attempted to create the appearance that the film was independent, while they controlled or influenced its content from behind the scenes.
Crude is a courtroom drama that never actually sees the inside of a
courtroom. After years of stalling, Chevron's lawyers managed to move a
class action case accusing them of large scale pollution of a native
Amazonian community from the United States to Ecuador, and it's as the
proceedings are finally getting underway there that director Joe
Berlinger and his crew pick up the action. I don't really enjoy life
nor do I really want to knowing the amount of injustice and suffering
that is going on.
The thing we are starting to see is what comes around goes around, because all the outsourcing of jobs and exploitation of workers in other countries is ruing the economies all over. But people wont stop having kids, no matter how impoverished they are or how their children suffer, they seem to think procreating is a function like sh!tting that cant be helped. I hear so many parents of 3 b!tching about how bad life sucks and how unfair it is. and Im like WHAaaa? I have a friend whos a single mother and shes my only friend shes a really great and strong person she doesn't even let herself feel down, but what really upsets me are the people who are depressed or struggling or who hate life, having children. Thats one thing about the human race that never ceases to amaze me besides the greed. People who hate life, or who don't have enough, or who don't care about their children, having them. The people who run sweatshops lie to the hiring companies about the conditions but they claim when caught they just cant afford to pay the workers or care about the environment, but that's not true, they simply want to skim so much from the top that the people below suffer. The Indians have suffered the effects of pollution, but not pollution generated by Chevron, or possibly even by oil production. People are so damn selfish.
And who is behind the plaintiffs? A little-known group concocted by an alliance of anti-capitalists and trial lawyers who are probably not working pro bono.
|External reviews||Official site||Plot keywords|
|Main details||Your user reviews||Your vote history|