USA, 2009, 108 min
Languages: English, Spanish
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Produced by Joe Berlinger, Michael Bonfiglio, J.R. DeLeon, Richard Stratton
Cinematography by Pocho Alvarez, Joe Berlinger, Michael Bonfiglio, Juan Diego Pérez
Music by Wendy Blackstone
Starring Sting, Trudie Styler, Pablo Fajardo, Luis Yanza, German Yanez, Adolfo Callejas, Diego Larrea
Three years in the making, this cinéma-vérité feature from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) is the epic story of 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 subverts the conventions of advocacy filmmaking as it examines a complicated situation from all angles while bringing an important story of environmental peril and human suffering into focus.
The landmark case takes place in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, pitting 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers against the U.S. oil giant Chevron. The plaintiffs claim that Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – spent three decades systematically contaminating one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, poisoning the water, air and land. The plaintiffs allege that the pollution has created a “death zone” in an area the size of the Rhode Island, resulting in increased rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and a multiplicity of other health ailments. They further allege that the oil operations in the region contributed to the destruction of indigenous peoples and irrevocably impacted their traditional way of life. Chevron vociferously fights the claims, charging that the case is a complete fabrication, perpetrated by “environmental con men” who are seeking to line their pockets with the company’s billions.
The case takes place not just in a courtroom, but in a series of field inspections at the alleged
contamination sites, with the judge and attorneys for both sides trudging through the jungle to litigate. And the battleground has expanded far beyond the legal process. The cameras rolled as the conflict raged in and out of court, and the case drew attention from an array of celebrities, politicians and journalists, and landed on the cover of Vanity Fair. Some of the film’s subjects sparked further controversy as they won a CNN “Hero” award and the Goldman Award, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Shooting in dozens of locations on three continents and in multiple languages, Berlinger and his crew gained extraordinary access to players on all sides of the legal fight and beyond, capturing the drama as it unfolded while the case grew from a little-known legal story to an international cause célèbre. Crude is a ground-level view of one of the most extraordinary legal dramas of our time, one that has the potential of forever changing the way international business is conducted. While the environmental impact of the consumption of fossil fuels has been increasingly documented in recent years, Crude focuses on the human cost of our addiction to oil and the increasingly difficult task of holding a major corporation accountable for its past deeds.
Dennis Harvey – Variety
"Joe Berlinger’s latest documentary is an issue-oriented activist effort about corporate malfeasance and environmental catastrophe. Charting still-unresolved efforts by Ecuadorian tribes to get recompense from oil companies for pollution that has destroyed their land, culture and lives over recent decades, the pic makes an engrossing case for justice."
Ty Burr – The Boston Globe
"In "Crude" the anger onscreen spreads as slowly and inexorably as toxic sludge. The documentary follows a pending class-action lawsuit filed by 30,000 Amazon tribespeople against the US petro-giant Chevron for contaminating an area of land the size of Rhode Island. It’s a classic David vs. Goliath face-off and at first “Crude’’ looks like one more environmental agit-doc intended to outrage and inspire. Director Joe Berlinger is no doctrinaire hack, though. His previous movies - "Brother’s Keeper," "Paradise Lost", "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" - coolly stare down their subjects until other stories start to emerge, and so it is here. The rousing primary narrative of "Crude" follows Ecuador’s Pablo Fajardo, a likable former laborer turned activist attorney who pushes the lawsuit forward in the name of his cancer-ridden countrymen. That story line, urgent as it is, gets increasingly upstaged by the media circus the plaintiffs have to mount in order to win over American hearts, minds, and tax-free contributions. The movie could alternately be titled “Mr. Fajardo’s Education."
Owen Glelberman – Entertainment Weekly
"Crude, Joe Berlinger's new documentary, takes an unsparing look at the kind of corporate policy that leads to environmental calamity. In 1993, 30,000 residents of the Amazonian rain forests of Ecuador filed a class-action suit against Texaco. The suit, inherited by Chevron after a 2001 merger, alleged that decades of ruthless oil drilling had poisoned the
ancestral territory of the Cofán nation, rendering the region uninhabitable and causing an epidemic of cancer. Berlinger charts the thorny years of litigation led by two heroic lawyers. It's a David-and-Goliath tale, full of anger and disturbing accusation, but it's also inspiring."
David Edelstein – New York Magazine
"Joe Berlinger's Crude is another high-impact activist doc, except its media-saturated subtext even more pronounced than No Impact Man's. On the surface, Berlinger tells the story of Texaco's alleged desecration — a billion gallons of spilled oil — of the Ecuadorean Amazon Rain Forest and the 27-billion-dollar lawsuit against the company (since acquired by Chevron) that has dragged on since 1992, a year after Texaco sold its operations to an Ecuadorean consortium. Although Berlinger lets both sides have their say, his sympathies palpably lie with lawyer-from-the-jungle Pablo Fajardo and his voluble Upper West Side adviser, Steven Donzinger. Corporate talking heads argue that (a) petroleum has nothing to do with cancer rates, and (b) it wasn't Texaco (which came back and conducted an "environmental remediation"), but said consortium, that did the damage. Berlinger doesn't counter Chevron's counter charges with facts and figures. With footage of petrochemical-sludge swamps and babies covered with flaming sores, he doesn't especially need to."
Eric Monder – The Hollywood Reporter
"Berlinger's reputation as a skilled filmmaker-journalist and the topical subject matter make "Crude" must-viewing for those who care about the planet. It wouldn't be surprising if the film has an impact on the legal wrangling in the courts, let alone popular knowledge and opinion.
Berlinger covers both sides of the court case, in which oil field laborer-turned-lawyer Pablo Fajardo alleges decades-long ecological terrorism by Chevron (whose defendants claim the charges are fabricated to line the pockets of the environmentalist legal team).
It becomes obvious where Berlinger stands, which is understandable because it would have been naive for the director to try to stay neutral or artificially balance his inquiry (as the average oil company-sponsored mainstream TV news show would do). Still, thanks to Berlinger's tenacious, comprehensive, well-researched approach, it would be unwise to dismiss him as a mere muckraker."
Official site: http://www.crudethemovie.com/
Winner: Best Documentaries of the Year – National Board of Review
Winner: International Green Film Award – Cinema for Peace
Winner: Best International Documentary – One World Media Awards
And more than 20 other festivals awards
Lumiere - 07.11 - 17:00; Cinema House - 11.11 - 19:00