Movie Review: Crude (2009)

The essence of global corporatism? __ 9/10

CrudeChevron Spokesperson (paraphrasing): The sanitation in that region is poor and probably accounts for the contaminated water and other health problems reported by the plaintiffs.

Chevron Spokesperson (paraphrasing): We are not responsible for the environmental damage, because operations for the Lago Agrio oil field have been conducted by Petroecuador, the state oil company, since 1993.

Directed and Produced by Joe Berlinger

  • Pablo Fajardo
    (Ecuadorian lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs)
  • Steve Donziger
    (American lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs)
  • Joe Berlinger
    (producer of Crude)
  • Juan Diego Perez
  • Pocho Alvarez
  • Michael Bonfiglio
  • Sting
    (activist, artist and cofounder of Rainforest Foundation Fund)
  • Trudie Styler
    (activist, producer, and cofounder of Rainforest Foundation Fund with her husband Sting)
  • Adolfo Callejas (Ecuadorian lawyer on behalf of Chevron-Texaco)
    Diego Larrea (Ecuadorian Lawyer on behalf of Chevron-Texaco)
  • Rafael Correa (President of the Republic of Ecuador)
  • Sara McMillen (Chief Environmental Scientist for Chevron)
  • Ricardo Reis Veiga (Corporate counsel for Chevron Latin America)

Wikipedia Summary

The film follows the progress during 2006 and 2007 of a $27 billion legal case brought against the Chevron Corporation following the drilling of the Lago Agrio oil field, a case also known as the “Amazon Chernobyl.”

The plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit are 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazonian Rainforest they claim has been polluted by the oil industry. In addition to the legal struggle, Crude shows interviews from both sides, and explores the influence of media support, celebrity activism, the power of multinational corporations, the shifting power in Ecuadorian politics, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures on the case.

Serious Business

Wikipedia is all over this issue, and I recommend reading the Wiki article about the movie as well as the Wiki article on the Lago Agrio oil field; the latter supplies some key dates and facts about the litigation effort that continues. What astounds me, considering the emotional concerns, is the impartiality of the film, which provides a constant Chevron counterpoint—none of the spokespersons are villainized or caricatured, or interrupted—to allegations of damages by the plaintiffs. But that doesn’t mean the essential facts of the case favor the defendants. No sir. Not at all.

Just today I received from Brasscheck TV a link to a book and story by a Pulitzer nominee on the pivotal role of IBM in the Nazi Holocaust. Then I think back to Vietnam in my day and my own casual acceptance of the CIA’s war for enrichment of arms manufacturers: “What do you mean they’re dropping napalm on civilians? It’s worth it if it’ll shut up those commies passing out literature at the university.”

Of course the only thing the commies really had going for them was opposition to sleazy finance-capitalist wars.

My point being that insensitivity is a lot easier when you buy the corporate, mind-control baloney stuff. People cease being people… and you can scapegoat communism, bad sanitation, or third-world governments for the horrendous death and destruction “a mere handful” of dispossessed peons suffer thanks to the ‘profit motive’ of the good old global Corporate Menace. Heck, most of these corps—Exxon, Chevron, or BP—have an American (or at least an Anglo-American) financial base. So it becomes a patriotic duty to support their gathering of spoils: “Please sit still, if you will, while we dump on these other people for the Red, White, and Blue.”

Films like Crude, or the book by Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust, and so many others, perform a wonderful public service by showing how those who participate in and benefit from the Corporation readily represent for that archetype. Typically they represent at a distance. The chief environmentalist for Chevron, Ms. Sara McMillen, dutifully conveys the company line while suppressing sympathy for other mothers who have lost children to Poison Muck. She hasn’t been to the dump site, she hasn’t smelled the water, she hasn’t seen the dying kids and toxin-ridden parents. She hasn’t born witness to the obvious, and thank heavens, she won’t have to; but you know, deep down, her conscience nags her at the kids’ soccer practice… or when she stops for a drink at the water fountain.

Movie Inspires

Crude is the essence of an exposé documentary: hand-held cameras and microphones in the corporate boardrooms and out in the field, and the human side as we follow around the two essential protagonists: Pablo Fajardo (Ecuadorian lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs) and Steve Donziger (American lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs). It’s actually not a bad language training film as the players move back and forth between English and Spanish in a great variety of settings. I am especially inspired by the young Fajardo, whose life mission is to right the wrongs inflicted on his people.

The camera doesn’t lie. We’re dealing with an authentic corporate crime by the original players—Texaco in cahoots with the dictator du jure back in the 1960s, enabled by US government/CIA policy in Latin America: unfettered extraction and expropriation for the rich and connected. All the benefits of black gold with none of the costs… or rather immense costs, often terminal, born by those with no voice. Petroecuador merely perpetuates the transgression under a different hat, while Chevron stonewalls any inquiries to keep the unearned wealth rolling into Kleptocon coffers.

Well the chickens are coming home to roost. The film concludes with an initial US court judgment against Chevron for $27 billion, but sadly suggests it will be at least 10 more years before the final settlement is reached. Still, Crude and its supportive cast represent another nail in the coffin of the Corporate Beast, which coercive malady needs to be excised enroute to a more humanitarian vision of commerce.

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