Directed by Joe Berlinger, 2009, 105 min. www.crudethemovie.com
As a young manual laborer in the Texaco oil fields near his hometown in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Pablo Fajardo says he witnessed the company spill oil and sludge into nearby streams, rivers, and soil.
Fajardo, 35, is now the lead attorney in a 1993 class-action suit against this same oil company (now part of Chevron Corp.). He represents the 30,000 local people who are suffering the effects of the systematic poisoning of their immediate environment—contaminated water, polluted soil, and ever-increasing rates of cancer, birth defects, and leukemia. Joe Berlinger’s latest film, Crude, documents Fajardo’s struggle to hold Chevron accountable for this devastation.
Crude is a true documentary—it investigates both sides of the story evenly, revealing surprising complexities. For example, Chevron claims the devastation of the area was caused by Petroecuador, which took over Texaco’s holdings in the country in 1992. And Chevron’s lawyers are quick to point out that Fajardo isn’t working alone—he’s backed legally and financially by a major U.S. law firm. Fajardo won a 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize. One of the Chevron attorneys interviewed in the film was later indicted for fraud.
Filmed in Ecuador and the United States over a three-year period, Crude is riveting, insightful, and thoroughly researched. While the case is ongoing and may remain unresolved for another 10 years, a court-appointed, independent investigator in Ecuador has recommended that Chevron pay $27 billion in damages.
Crude leaves viewers with a sense of hope: If the current Ecuadorian government stays in power, Fajardo could win.
The film’s account of the financial and legal resources required to challenge a multinational company is sobering, however, as is the question that lingers long after the film ends: Can any amount of money compensate a community for the destruction of its land, its rivers, and its way of life?
—Elena Johnson is a journalist, poet, and researcher based in Vancouver, B.C.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Directed by Gini Reticker, 2008, 72 min. www.praythedevilbacktohell.com
Watch this incredible story of the women who united to bring peace to Liberia, and imagine how similar movements might resolve wars the world over. The documentary is a riveting account of the violence-plagued West African nation and the women who survived it to face down dictators and warlords.
Dirt! The Movie
Common Ground Media, 2009, 86 min.
This celebratory homage to what’s beneath our feet is both beautiful and educational. Dirt, the speakers and the images in this film make clear, is the foundation of life: In order to sustain that life, we must respect and care for dirt. Sound heavy? Animated dirt clods occasionally bounce into the frame to add a little levity.