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It’s a Jungle

12 Feb, 2010 By: Angelique Flores

Joe Berlinger

This isn’t the first time filmmaker Joe Berlinger has brought a controversial trial to the screen. But up until now, he said, Crude is the most difficult one yet.

The film unveils the complex class-action lawsuit 30,000 Ecuadorians filed against Chevron. The people are seeking a clean-up of their jungle, where toxic waste damages are estimated at $27 billion.

First Run Features releases the documentary on DVD Feb. 23 at $24.95. It has more than an hour of bonus materials, including an interview with Berlinger and Trudie Styler, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and a resource guide. The film is in English, Spanish, A’ingae and Secoya with English subtitles.

Crude brought in $165,452 in a limited release and was a festival favorite around the globe. It was named by the National Board of Review as one of the best five documentaries of 2009, and Berlinger was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the Environmental and Social Justice category at the 2009 Sundance Festival. The acclaimed documentarian (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper), per his usual style, presents the film in cinema verité.

The controversy started in the 1960s, when Texaco arrived in the Ecuadorian Amazon to drill for oil. The film captures the trial in Ecuador, with various people speaking of their involvement in the case, from the American and Ecuadorian attorneys to the indigenous Ecuadorians and government officials. The film also trails Styler, who with her husband, Sting, and their Rainforest Foundation, has been providing filtered drinking water to the region, with the help of UNICEF and the Amazon Defense Fund.

Crude has all the elements of a good drama and thriller, as a real-life crusader, Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo, represents the impoverished, indigenous people in a battle against a giant U.S. oil company with no end in sight.

But Berlinger was not interested in the project at first.

“I got dragged into it kicking and screaming,” said Berlinger, who made the film after visiting the area as prompted by Steven Dozinger, a U.S. attorney working with Fajardo.

“I was horrified at the level of pollution I saw.”

The shoot was both emotionally and physically demanding.

“This movie on so many levels was the most gut-wrenching and difficult shoot,” he said. “There was an utter disregard for humanity, a complete disrespect for the environment.”

Meanwhile, the team worked in 120-degree heat, in the middle of a malaria zone and in the midst of the pollution sites

“At the end of the day, we had headaches and our eyes were eyes watering from the toxic fumes,” Berlinger said. “The thing I’ll always remember is the awful, noxious smell.”

On top of that, they were close to the Colombian border, which is infested with drug runners, FARC guerillas and criminals.

But Berlinger has found the rewards. He said the film has raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for Styler’s Rainforest Foundation.

The trial may take at least another decade for a judge to reach a ruling. Berlinger is still following the case.

“But I’m not sure I’ll make another film about it,” he said.


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