Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” looked a little troublesome at Sundance this year. The political documentary about Chevron allegedly poisoning Ecuador’s water with oil spills didn’t get picked up right away.
But lo and behold: First Run Features made the deal, the film opened last night with a premiere downtown, and the New York Times’s A.O. Scott was among the rave reviews. And I do mean, rave. “Crude” should be on the short list for Academy Award consideration now that the word is spreading.
What’s interesting about “Crude” is that it tells two stories. One is about Chevron Oil inheriting a mess left behind by Texaco in Ecuador ‘ and instead of cleaning it up, making it worse, then defending their position. Children have died from the tainted water, massive amounts of corruption have occurred, and a corporation is ‘ allegedly ‘ killing a whole country.
I say allegedly because there’s a long-aborning court case filed by the people of Ecuador against Chevron. There was a premliminary suggestion of an award to the people of $27 million. But the court doesn’t have to accept that finding, so the case winds on.
The second interesting thing is that the case has gone on so long that Pablo Fajardo had enough time grow up in Ecuador, go to college and law school, and then bring the suit. A CNN “Hero,” Fajardo was featured two years ago in Vanity Fair’s Green Issue. He’s a compelling central subject.
A third aspect of the film, and the case, is the presence of Trudie Styler and Sting, and their Rainforest Foundation. Styler is in the film, having taken an active interest in Fajardo’s story and the plight of the Ecuadorians. She helped get water filtration systems down to the country ‘ a band aid for sure, but something while the oil slicks keep coming down the river. Sting is featured from The Police’s appearance at Live Earth in 2007, where Fajardo came to meet North Americans who could help him get the word out. Of course, back then he’d never heard of Sting or The Police. Now he knows the words to “Message in a Bottle.”
“Crude” is as entertaining as it is jolting. Documentaries don’t get long runs in theaters, so try and see it fast before it heads to DVD. It will make you think twice and three times when you see a Chevron station. Just the idea that Chevron/Texaco’s oil spills are millions of gallons more than what the Exxon Valdez left behind should give pause.