Rarely have such conflicts been examined with the depth and power of Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Crude.” Three years in the making, the film looks at all sides of the so-called Amazon Chernobyl case, a multibillion-dollar lawsuit that pits 30,000 Ecuadorean rainforest dwellers against Chevron.
In the film, which has its New York premiere on Saturday, the plaintiffs allege that three decades of pollution from petrochemical sludge dumped by Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, have created a dead zone the size of Rhode Island and resulted in skyrocketing rates of birth defects and cancer, especially leukemia. Chevron has fought the lawsuit, claiming the case was cooked up by greedy “environmental con men” and blames the state-owned Petroecuador, which took over the country’s oil production in 1990.
As much as “Crude” sympathizes with the plaintiffs (the film’s hero, Pablo Fajardo, their lead lawyer, once worked in the oil fields), it isn’t a starkly black-and-white David and Goliath story. We hear from scientists, lawyers for both sides, Ecuadorean judges, celebrity activists (Trudie Styler and Sting) and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who has sided with the plaintiffs in a case that may drag on for decades. These real characters and events play out on the screen like a sprawling legal thriller.
For more on this case, see Hannah Fights for Achuar, Hannah and Kilcher in Ecuador, and Actress Tackles Big Oil.