Saturday, October 17, 2009


I just saw the new documentary, Crude, directed by Joe Berlinger about the lawsuit brought against Chevron on behalf of 30,000 indigenous Ecuadoreans over contamination from oil exploration. The film is quite good, probably the best and most accessible introduction to the issue that you will find, although I'm not sure in how many theaters it can be found.

The film focuses on the lawyers, particularly the American Stephen Donziger who has been pushing the suit for decades pro bono (although he stands to make a hefty sum if they win) and the Ecuadoreans Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza. Fajardo is the star, self-effacing but quietly charismatic -- he grew up impoverished in the oil fields, putting himself through law school at night to finally lead the legal team, in the process winning international environmental awards and getting profiled in glossy magazines. Donziger comes off as your stereotypical bossy American, although you have to admire the guy's tenacity and street smarts.

The filmmakers are clearly on the side of the locals, although they give Chevron plenty of space to (attempt to) defend their record and don't hesitate to question the motives and tactics of the plaintiffs. Their overall take on the situation is pretty similar to what we learned when we visited the region earlier this year, namely: Chevron is guilty as hell (although PetroEcuador is no angel either) and the prospect of a $27 billion payout has prompted them to pull every trick in the book to avoid it.

The highlight of the film are the on-site inspections of the waste oil pits performed by the court-appointed expert, which serve as a forum for the lawyers to go toe-to-toe. Fajardo presses his case amplified by testimony from a band of local residents, while Chevron is represented by a lawyer who might as well be straight from central casting. Great courtroom drama from the middle of a rainforest.

Anyway, well worth seeing. Here's the trailer.

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