November 18, 2009
By Ken Krayeske • 11:45 PM EST
The official trailer for Crude, a documentary by Joe Berlinger.
Suppose that an oil catastrophe more than 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez happened and no one noticed?
Well it did. In the Ecuadorian rain forest. For decades, Texaco is alleged to have dumped oil in pits across Ecuador. What would be fenced off superfund sites in the United States are stinky open oil pits that indigenous peoples live next to in Ecuador.
After first seeing the catastrophe, American documentarian Joe Berlinger was so aghast and ashamed of what Texaco did that he decided to film it. Those first clips turned into a 104 minute feature film called Crude, which documents the pollution and the class-action lawsuit brought by 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians against Texaco, and now its successor Chevron.
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger will appear at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Friday night, November 20, as part of the Hartford premiere of Crude. He will stay afterwards for a question and answer session.
Mr. Berlinger is crisscrossing the country promoting the new movie. He took a few moments Monday, November 16 to discuss the film.
Q: Crude spans years and many locations. It seems like it took a lot of persistence to make.
Berlinger: It took a lot of dedication. It was a really hard film to make. Making any film is an achievement. I hate it when reviewers flippantly rip things to shreds. I would like to see reviewers make a film. They need to show some respect that something got done.
This film was difficult to make. We filmed in brutal conditions. We were filming at the equator, and the 120 degree equatorial heat was oppressive. We filmed next to these massive pollution sites that would be fenced off in the U.S. These were superfund sites we could walk right up to and have a trial next to.
By the end of the day, you would have a wicked headache and your eyes would be watering. We filmed a mile and half from the Columbian border. There was a big dispute over the natural resources between Columbia and Ecuador, and it was militarized.
And of course that border dispute brings a criminal element, plus FARC guerrillas, drug runners and so on. I was concerned for my and my crew's safety. It was a malaria zone, too.
The worst thing was whenever we slept overnight in these indigenous villages, we would get these chigger bites. Chiggers are bugs that crawl into your feet and lay eggs. I still have scars that get inflamed.
Q: So why do the film?
Berlinger: I felt it was a moral imperative when I was shown this disaster. I was embarrassed to be an American that an American company was involved in this.
I am not smart enough to figure out the lawsuit. The film’s job is to present both sides. The reason I am comfortable with that – there is a moral bankruptcy to the whole affair. The lawsuit debates whether there was fraudulent remediation and whether the release Texaco signed with the Ecuadorian government prevents a third party from suing.
I can't sort through those issues and come up with an affirmative conclusion about the suit. But there is no moral justification for what Texaco did, even if they feel they have protected themselves from it.
It was shocking to me. One of the big failings of crude is its two
dimensional nature. The thing that I'll never forget, and there are a lot of arresting images, I will never forget the foul odor of the region and the foul odor of people’s water.
When you see the pollution with the naked eye, it is far worse. When you are looking at it from a 360-degree viewpoint, it is shocking to see what they have done to that part of the world.