For the past month, I've been traveling around the country presenting my new film Crude to theatrical audiences, and it has been an incredibly eye-opening and emotional experience.
Crude tells the story of the largest environmental lawsuit on the planet, pitting 30,000 Ecuadorean rainforest residents against Chevron, the world's fifth-largest company. Making the film was a three-year labor of love -- a grueling process that was both physically and emotionally draining. Now that the film is finished and has taken on its own life, bringing it to theatres across the country has been a tremendously rewarding experience, mostly because of the way in which it has changed my view of my fellow citizens. The theatrical release of the film has reminded me of the power of cinema to unite and inspire people, and confirmed my belief that cinema can and should be a communal experience.
The environmental and human rights tragedy that is examined in Crude was allowed to happen because of complacency, greed and an indifference to the environment and to human suffering. What I have seen from audiences in Q&A sessions after the film plays is quite the opposite - a desire to get involved and make a difference.
After the first question, which is invariably, "What can we do to help these people?" I point the audience to our website, where people can donate to the clean drinking water project started by activist (and wife of Sting) Trudie Styler and implemented by UNICEF and the Rainforest Foundation. You can also find out more about a variety of NGOs - including Oxfam, AmazonWatch and Witness - that are doing work to try and change the situation of the thousands of people affected by this, and other, tragedies.
Sometimes, people won't have a question, but will share their personal feelings about how the film has touched them. A young woman at a screening in New York told us, "I am a lawyer, and seeing this film has made me realize that I might not always have worked on the right side of justice. I need to make some changes in my life." People have talked about being awakened to how their decisions touch others halfway around the world, and vowed to be more diligent about educating themselves about the companies they support. They have signed petitions, offered donations to the clean water project, and bought our t-shirts, the proceeds of which go directly to that water project. And they have tearfully embraced us, thanking us for introducing them to a story that has changed their lives.
Despite the great press the film has received, for me and the other folks who poured our hearts and souls into making Crude, these personal interactions have meant more than any award or review. It has been a renewed faith in the power of the shared experience of going to the movies in a theatre, being exposed to new ideas and new stories, and realizing that we all have the power to affect change in our world.
It has become increasingly difficult to release serious social issue documentaries in movie theaters, so this reminder to me of the power of that experience has renewed my faith in this medium. I am as guilty as others for watching films in solitude - on my computer; on my ipod...but feeling the collective good will of an audience has inspired me to keep making films for theatrical audiences, despite the difficulties.
Crude is currently in national release and will be rolling out to more cities throughout the fall and winter. To find out when the movie is coming to your town, please visit the Now Playing section of our website. As I continue traveling the country in support of the release, I look forward to meeting more incredible people and sharing Crude's important story with them.