Revisiting "Crude"

by Dan Bloom

Last year Bob spoke with filmmaker Joe Berlinger about his documentary, “Crude.”

The film is about the devastating pollution in Eastern Ecuador caused by oil extraction and the lawsuit being waged to decide who’s going to pay for the cleanup and compensatory damages to the natives. The company that set up the oil operation was Texaco — now a part of Chevron, but the corporate giant believes the state oil company, “Petroecuador” is legally responsible for the damage.

Berlinger’s film made a splash at Sundance and exposed many people around the world to the pollution in Ecuador and the subsequent trial. Rather than to accept the dissemination of what Chevron sees as a biased work, they went on the offensive, suing Berlinger for access to all of his outtakes from the filming of “Crude.” Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Berlinger must indeed surrender over 600 hours of tapes to Chevron.

Belrlinger is appealing the verdict and colleagues, like Michael Moore, have encouraged Berlinger to resist the decision, alleging that Berlinger’s first amendment rights are being violated and a chilling effect could be felt by journalists and their sources in the future.

Chevron has their own video, taken undercover, that seems to show the former judge of the case discussing the financial outcome of the trial well before it had already been decided. That judge has already been removed from the case, and you can view the video, and more of the company’s arguments on Chevron’s website: http://www.chevron.com/ecuador/

The major web resource for the plaintiffs is http://www.ChevronToxico.com . It has background on the pollution, updates on the legal case, video of polluted areas and emotional testimonies from Ecuadorian residents. The website is run by the group Amazon Watch.

This case has many divisive issues weaved into it: the rights of indigenous people, multinational corporations and the environment, the limits of free speech, the relationship between the United States and Latin America.

Joe Berlinger told Bob that he can’t determine who is legally responsible for the pollution, but he finds Chevron’s lack of protection of the local environment & the indigenous people is morally indefensible. Luckily for Chevron, that argument won’t hold up in court.