Chevron spokesperson Kent Robertson responded to the release of Crude on the day of its theatrical premiere, calling it “long on emotion and short on facts.” While Robertson, who has yet to see the film, missed the boat on the “short on facts” remark, with respect to emotion, he had a point. And while he means for it to be testament to a poorly or inaccurately made film, what it means in this case is that the subject matter, the poverty stricken, sick and desperate indigenous and colonial dwellers of the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, cannot be translated into anything but emotional.
The documentary by Joe Berlinger, chronicles the 13-year lawsuit brought about against Chevron for their senseless dumping of oil and toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, creating what is believed to be a “1,700-square-mile ‘cancer death zone’.” There are numerous interviews on both sides, and equally impassioned arguments are made for who is responsible for how much of the destruction. You can say what you want about Chevron or the use of media by American environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, or whether or not it was really Chevron and not Petro-Ecuador, which took over the dumping when Chevron left. Berlinger provides enough information that we are forced to question not just Chevron’s actions but our own, the blind consumers for which the supply services. What cannot be argued is the magnitude of destruction and subsequent consequences to the people who live there.
For Berlinger, who was apprehensive about becoming involved in the project when first approached by Donziger in 2005, could not refuse the responsibility of the story. When I sat down with him to talk about getting involved in the project, he told me, “I’m an advocate of that little girl and her people, without question” referring to the film’s poster propped up behind him. “I don’t think I’m smart enough to sort through all the myriad of legal issues and hundreds of thousands of pages. So I’m extremely neutral in presenting both sides of the lawsuit and seeing what they have to say. I’m not neutral about the moral imperative of what I saw as a humanitarian crime.” The same was true of Trudie Styler, also recruited by Donziger, who recognized her celebrity weight and activism with her own Rainforest foundation as an added bonus for bringing awareness to the affected people. She tells me that at first she went strictly on a “Fact finding mission” without knowing what to expect. What she found was “Horrific.” She describes the conditions as dire saying, “The people are deprived every day of their lives of the basic necessity which sustains human life, and that’s clean and safe water.” The same was true of UNICEF who at the request of Trudy (she went “Hammering on their doors”), came to see with their own eyes what had happened and immediately declared it an emergency despite the fact that “This has been going on for three decades.”
It’s an undeniably important film. A call to action film, whether Berlinger intended it that way or not. It’s a necessary film for our own human understanding that for this reason alone, everyone should see.