(15) 104 min
This complex yet absorbing cinema-vérité documentary from American director Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Revelations: Paradise Lost), concerns a multi-billion dollar legal action in the field of environmental compensation. Back in 1993 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of 30,000 Amazonian tribes people in Ecuador against Texaco. The plaintiffs argued that the oil-drilling and waste dumping activities of the company, which merged with Chevron in 2001, had destroyed their natural habitat: safe drinking water had become polluted, incidences of teenage cancers had rocketed, and babies suffered from mysterious skin complaints.
Chevron’s lawyers continue to argue in this still ongoing case that their corporation is not responsible for this catastrophic pollution, putting the blame instead on PetroEcuador, the state organisation that took over their operation in 1992.
Some fascinating characters emerge from this David versus Goliath tale. There’s the humble Pablo Fajardo, the lead attorney for the indigenous people, who was once an oil-field worker and who shows indefatigable commitment to the cause. Also on his side is the fiery Manhattan human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, powerfully driven (not least on financial grounds) to secure a favourable verdict.
Berlinger demonstrates that the battle is fought out as much in the media as in the courts. An important development is the backing Fajardo receives from Vanity Fair magazine and from Trudie Styler and Sting and their Rainforest Foundation, which brings global attention to Fajardo’s campaigning. Berlinger works hard at preventing Crude from becoming a dry legal debate, setting up visual contrasts between the Amazon basin and the offices of corporate America, as well as filming the open air judicial investigations in Ecuador, where the various lawyers make their speeches in front of crowds and a judge at the sites of pollution.
If there’s little doubt where the director’s sympathies lie, he does allow Chevron representatives to defend their position. Justice, however, could yet be a long time coming.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 15 Jan.