For much of the past month I’ve been traveling throughout the Amazon in Ecuador and Peru while researching oil contamination and exploration, so it was with great interest that I watched Crude, which was released on Tuesday in North America. The film outlines the court case Aguinda vs. Chevron-Texaco that has had 30,000 people in the Ecuadorian Amazon face off against the American Oil giant for a good part of two decades.
The case, which Texaco fought for ten years in the United States to move to Ecuador, is going through its final stages in Ecuadorian courts (though estimates in the film say it could still be another ten years before any real settlement is reached) and an independent court appointed examination said that Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001) was responsible for $27 billion dollars in damages. The film traces the lives of the legal team, specifically New York based Stephen Donsziger and Lago Agrio based Pablo Fajardo of the defense. There are countless interviews with local residents in places such as Shushufindi and San Carlos that sit in the epicenter of where Texaco’s wells and waste pits still stand and the health effects that they have been plagued with. There are visits to the indigenous communities who have been affected and talks with the people there to see what could and should be done. A powerful moment occurs at the beginning of the film when Cofán leader Ermegildo Criollo is preparing a speech for Chevron shareholders and asks that “you were in my territory for 28 years, I want you to listen to me for 3 minutes.”
A lot of the blame from Chevron is repeatedly shifted to PetroEcuador in the film and there doesn’t seem to be much of a rebuttal on the part of the filmmakers who are clearly on the side of the defense. For instance, they don’t mention that all attempts by Chevron to involve PetroEcuador in U.S. courts have been thrown out.
Many of the people I met (Ermegildo Criollo, Lupita de Heredia, Pablo Fajardo, etc) and sights I saw (oil pits, health centers, the village of Dureno, etc) were all featured in the film and it was their stories Crude tells. Does it do them justice? Yes and no. It’s one thing for a film to tell you what is there and to show you just how vast the contamination in Ecuador is (whether it was caused by Texaco or not), but it is another thing to see it with your own eyes, as Fajardo invites a room full of media in San Francisco to do at the beginning of the film.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.