Three years in the making, this cinéma-vérité feature from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) is the epic story of one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits on the planet. The inside story of the infamous “Amazon Chernobyl” case, Crude is a real-life high stakes legal drama, set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures. Presenting a complex situation from multiple viewpoints, the film subverts the conventions of advocacy filmmaking, exploring a complicated situation from all angles while bringing an important story of environmental peril and human suffering into focus.
The landmark case takes place in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, pitting 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers against the U.S. oil giant Chevron. The plaintiffs claim that Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – spent three decades systematically contaminating one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, poisoning the water, air and land. The plaintiffs allege that the pollution has created a “death zone” in an area the size of the Rhode Island, resulting in increased rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and a multiplicity of other health ailments. They further allege that the oil operations in the region contributed to the destruction of indigenous peoples and irrevocably impacted their traditional way of life. Chevron vociferously fights the claims, charging that the case is a complete fabrication, perpetrated by “environmental con men” who are seeking to line their pockets with the company’s billions.
The case takes place not just in a courtroom, but in a series of field inspections at the alleged contamination sites, with the judge and attorneys for both sides trudging through the jungle to litigate. And the battleground has expanded far beyond the legal process. The cameras rolled as the conflict raged in and out of court, and the case drew attention from an array of celebrities, politicians and journalists, and landed on the cover of Vanity Fair. Some of the film’s subjects sparked further controversy as they won a CNN “Hero” award and the Goldman Award, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Shooting in dozens of locations on three continents and in multiple languages, Berlinger and his crew gained extraordinary access to players on all sides of the legal fight and beyond, capturing the drama as it unfolded while the case grew from a little-known legal story to an international cause célèbre. Crude is a ground-level view of one of the most extraordinary legal dramas of our time, one that has the potential of forever changing the way international business is conducted. While the environmental impact of the consumption of fossil fuels has been increasingly documented in recent years, Crude focuses on the human cost of our addiction to oil and the increasingly difficult task of holding a major corporation accountable for its past deeds.