The documentary-style film about the litigation against Chevron for past oil operations in Ecuador, “Crude,” has been rolled out around the country in recent weeks, accompanied by much touting by the anti-corporate activists and uncritical reviewers. The Los Angeles Times, for example, profiled the film’s director, Joe Berlinger, and the film under the headline, “‘Crude’ tactics in Ecuador.”
“Crude” ostensibly relates the story around a lawsuit filed by U.S. trial lawyers against Chevron for pollution caused during the operations in Ecuador by Texaco decades ago. (Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.) And “Crude” is a well-made, even compelling movie. Too bad it’s only loosely related to the truth.
Berlinger’s product is a classic anti-business hit job, biased and selective in its telling of facts and spreader of myths and half-truths. But in the media coverage and reviews, the public rarely learns that much of what the movie portrays is bunk — or at least vigorously disputed by Chevron. The Times’ reviewer, Gary Goldstein, doesn’t bother to solicit a response from Chevron.
Berlinger claims to be an objective filmmaker, just bringing a good story to light. In remarks after the June premiere of “Crude” at the SilverDocs film festival in Silver Spring, Md., (Berlinger said):
I think one of the strengths of the film is that it is a fairly objective film, it shows kind of the warts and all of both sides.
Yet moments later he says:
For me the lawsuit is obviously the structural glue of the film. I made this film because of how we as white people have treated indigenous people over the years in both North and South America, and around the world. I think what multinational corporations have done in our name is just the late 20th Century and early 21st Century continuation of this terrible treatment of indigenous people. That’s really why I’m in.
It’s an objective film about the destruction of peaceful people by evil Western exploiters, he said, objectively. (The photo above is from the SilverDocs’ presentation with Berlinger, right, and Steven Donziger, the trial lawyer who is leading the litigation against Chevron, financed by the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graft.)
In an interview with Berlinger in The Thin Green Line, a San Francisco Chronicle blog, the director rues use of the film by Amazon Watch to promote the $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron.
I have mixed feelings about Amazon Watch embracing the film to the degree that it’s embraced it because I have maintained throughout the entire production period and release an arms-length relationship with everybody involved, so that the film is treated as a piece of objective journalism—because it is.
An objective piece of journalism. Right. Except he freely lets Amazon Watch use the film for fundraisers.
I’ve allowed them at the San Francisco and L.A. premieres to have Amazon Watch-branded fund-raising events. At [first], I felt like the film needed to stand on its own two feet and establish itself as an objective piece of journalism. Luckily it has: In all the early press, the film was widely praised as being incredibly balanced and objective. Once I had those credentials, I loosed up a little bit.
Of the 15-20 reviews we’ve read, not one bothered to contact Chevron for its side of the story. Yet Berlinger concludes that since movie reviewers praised the film, it’s objective. (For Chevron’s facts, rebuttals and arguments, see this document.)
It seems as if Berlinger is trying to maintain credibility with the documentary film crowd as a legitimate documentarian as opposed to a maker of agitprop. Judging from his interviews and comments in response to an earlier Shopfloor.org post, he may even believe his own line.
But it’s not credible. In fact, it’s pretty crude.
(Full disclosure, not even mandated by FTC blogging requirements: Chevron paid for a quick trip to Ecuador I made in June.)
P.S. This post has been edited to add the photo and the parenthetical description of the photo.)
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