(No longer in theaters)
Joe Berlinger, Michael Bonfiglio, J.R. DeLeon, Richard Stratton
First Run Features
Sep 9, 2009
On the surface, Joe Berlinger’s high-impact activist doc tells the story of Texaco’s alleged desecration—a billion gallons of spilled oil—of the Ecuadoran Amazon rain forest and the $27 billion lawsuit against the company (since acquired by Chevron) that has dragged on since 1993, a year after Texaco sold its operations to an Ecuadoran 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 Donziger. Corporate talking heads argue that (a) petroleum has nothing to do with cancer rates and (b) it wasn’t Texaco but said consortium that did the damage. Berlinger doesn’t counter Chevron’s countercharges with facts and figures. With footage of petrochemical-sludge swamps and babies covered with flaming sores, he doesn’t especially need to.
The other part of Crude—the supposedly uplifting part—covers the coverage. The breakthrough comes when Vanity Fair profiles Fajardo and it runs with a nice color portrait. He’s legit! Since VF penetrates celebrity bubbles, here comes Trudie Styler, co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation and wife of Sting: She flies to Ecuador, surveys the sludge, and poses with a sick family. She calls the lawsuit “a David and Goliath tale”—a great hook. The emotional peak is a Police reunion and benefit, after which Sting himself presents Fajardo to the press. Although last week Chevron accused a representative for the Ecuadoran president and presiding judge with corruption, things are looking up. Crude, after all, is opening. But here’s what’s depressing: Given the millions spent on defense by multinational conglomerates, our last best hope isn’t the courts but the noblesse oblige of celebrities.