A David and Goliath story of an oil giant's role in Ecuador

In a scene from "Crude," cancer victim Maria Garofalo is reflected in the stream behind her home in Ecuador's Amazon region.
In a scene from "Crude," cancer victim Maria Garofalo is reflected in the stream behind her home in Ecuador's Amazon region.
Posted: October 09, 2009

You're an Ecuadoran Indian. You live in the rainforest. The Amazon provides the water that you drink, that you use to live. And then a big oil company rumbles in, drills into the earth, and starts pumping. Waste and pollutants seep into the ground. Oil gets into the water table, is diverted into dumping beds, or is piped to the river - for decades.

Nothing - not your village, your family, your health - will be the same again.

In the powerful and powerfully upsetting documentary Crude, filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Mind of Monster), tracks the devastating effects - high incidence of cancer, high infant-mortality rates, sick animals - that, say the 30,000 Ecuadoran plaintiffs in a class-action suit, have befallen them because of the environmental negligence of Chevron, the world's fifth-largest corporation.

With a cast of characters that includes Pablo Fajardo, a smiling yet deadly earnest Ecuadoran attorney; Steven Donziger, a Spanish-speaking New York lawyer; Joseph Kohn, the Philadelphia litigator whose firm is funding the case for the plaintiffs; celebrity eco-activists Trudie Styler and her husband, Sting; and lawyers and scientists for Chevron, Crude chronicles the complicated and contentious legal, political, and corporate maneuvering that has taken place in Ecuador and the United States. The alleged dumping went on between 1972 and 1990. The lawsuit was filed in 1992. A resolution is at least 10 years away, experts say.

This David and Goliath story has its good guys and its bad guys, certainly. And like any piece of advocacy journalism, it's not hard to figure out who the filmmaker's heroes are. What's less clear, and more maddening, is how several generations of Ecuadorans have been left to live on toxic land, their health and livelihoods compromised, while lawyers file motions and counter-motions and blame is passed around.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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