American oil giant Chevron is now the 5th largest company on the planet. But I doubt Chevron executives have had much time to savor their 'Masters of the Universe' status lately. Instead, I imagine them working overtime with their internal public relations team and mercenary army of PR spinmasters, lobbyists, and sponsored bloggers they've brought on to fight what looks more and more like a losing battle. What's got them burning the midnight oil?
Two weeks from today, a powerful new documentary film is opening in New York, and then playing in select theaters across the country. Called CRUDE, the film tells a shocking story that Chevron does not want the world to know.
Three years in the making by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CRUDE chronicles the epic legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon -- an environmental tragedy experts call the "Amazon Chernobyl," and believe is the worst case of oil-related contamination on Earth. While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco, now Chevron, deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. The company operated using substandard practices that were obsolete in order to increase its profit margin by $3 per barrel of crude. Of course, the local people and ecosystems paid the price instead, but they're fighting back.
Centering on a landmark lawsuit filed by the indigenous people and campesinos who continue to suffer a severe public health crisis caused by Chevron's contamination, CRUDE is a high-stakes David vs. Goliath legal drama with 30,000 Amazon rainforest dwellers facing down the San Ramon, California-based oil behemoth.
Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign - featured in the film - is leading grassroots efforts to promote the theatrical release, enlisting human rights and environmental allies across the U.S. in an outreach and word-of-mouth marketing campaign. Numerous organizations have pledged support and committed to concrete efforts to build the profile of this must-see film, including Rainforest Action Network, Oxfam USA, WITNESS, EarthRights International, Human Rights Watch, and Global Green, to name just a few.
CRUDE is not a simplistic piece of agit-prop. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger shows all sides of this monumental case and the stories and people behind it. Chevron is given plenty of opportunity to share its perspective. Unfortunately for them, in the end, truth does appear to pick a side and it's not Chevron's.
Watch the trailer below:
Ultimately, the film gives us a glimpse of the beauty and mystery of the Amazon and its indigenous cultures, and puts a human face on the devastation left there by three decades of oil operations. But it does a lot more. Among other things, it also tells the story of what it takes to go up against one of the most powerful companies on the planet.
Especially inspiring is the story of Pablo Fajardo, the young former oil field worker who completed his law degree by correspondence course and is now the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Pablo argues passionately and courageously for the impacted communities, and you won't be able to help cheering him on.
Advising Pablo is another lawyer named Steven Donziger, who helped file the original lawsuit in New York back in 1993. Coming across as somehow simultaneously cynical and idealistic, Donziger is brash and and big and loud and manipulative. And if you're rooting for the plaintiffs, you'll find yourself thinking "I'm glad he's on our side."
And there are a slew of other fascinating real-life characters, from a Cofán indigenous leader who travels from the jungle by foot, canoe, bus, train, and plane to speak about the plight of his people at a Chevron shareholder meeting in Houston, to a Chevron attorney who comes across like the Tilda Swinton character from Michael Clayton (how does she sleep at night?). We meet Trudie Styler - wife of Sting and founder with him of the Rainforest Foundation - who visits the affected communities and quickly becomes passionately, earnestly involved.
It's easy to get behind CRUDE because it not only tells an important story. It tells it in an inspiring, powerful, engaging, and dare I say it, entertaining way. Joe Berlinger had a hit with his last film about Metallica going through group therapy. He brings the same storytelling acumen to this story that already had dramatic elements galore.
The theatrical release of CRUDE comes at a moment of unprecedented importance in the campaign to hold Chevron accountable and achieve justice for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. What's more, a victory for this grassroots campaign will send shockwaves through the oil industry and corporate boardrooms around the world, forever changing the way companies do business.
With CRUDE coming out in theaters, we have an unprecedented opportunity to massively increase public awareness of this issue and massively increase public pressure for Chevron to be held accountable. But it begins with getting people out to the movies!
The film opens in New York on 09/09/09, followed by runs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and thirty more smaller cities across the country [full list]. This sounds great but think of it compared to G.I. Joe, which was playing in 4,000 theaters at the same time a couple weeks ago! Theaters nationwide will be watching to see how the film performs in the first few weeks to decide whether to screen it themselves so please, help us spread the word.
Blog about CRUDE, post the trailer and poster and web banners on your social networks, follow and retweet @crudethemovie & @amazonwatch, become a fan of the film on Facebook, and join our mailing list for news, updates, and action alerts.
Visit www.ChevronToxico.com/crude for resources to help you promote CRUDE and get involved with the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign. Join us now so you can join us for the campaign's victory party in the near future!
You can also visit the official film website at: www.crudethemovie.com. to read more about the making of the film, to sign up for updates from the filmmaker, and to see the latest play-dates.