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Crude: Poignant Film Tracks Oil Company Abuse in Ecuador
A poignant addition to the series of eco-documentaries released over the last year, Crude tracks the struggle of rural Ecuadorians against oil corporation Texaco, and the environmental and health damages accrued after decades of oil companies in the country. The film shocks us with an investigative piece featuring the legal combat between the indigenous Ecuadorians and one of the world’s biggest oil companies.
Texaco is being sued for compensation over the ecological harm it caused in Ecuador since it started drilling in the early 1960s. Texaco, now owned by Chevron, arrived in Ecuador and started drilling in one of the richest oil excavation sites, the Americas, in the Amazon rainforest area. Texaco partnered with the Ecuadorian national oil company (Petro Ecuador) and pumped over a billion barrels of oil for the next 23 years, while digging pits to dump the toxic oil waste around every well.
The high levels of toxic waste seriously harmed the ecological surroundings in north-eastern Ecuador, and it raised the number of cancer cases among children and adults, who, for lack of access to clean water, are forced to bathe in contaminated, oily waters.
film follows the class-action lawsuit by 30,000 locals and Pablo Fajardo, their
lead attorney along with the American legal advisor Steven
Donziger, who specializes in class-action lawsuits. While
the film presents its case by hearing both sides of the lawsuit, it is easy to tell where the
film’s heart is.
Crude portrays the secrets of a modern battle for justice, and how important and vital media has become. Public opinion is often set by the media and so the case partially changes once the non-profit organization Rainforest Foundation is on board with the cause: its cofounders are British singer Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.
Throughout the film we get an insider’s look at how policies and strategies of struggles take place and while you are left with a sour taste and an eager longing for closure, “The trial itself is a miracle” says Lawyer Steven Donziger. It hits you where it counts: your humanity.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
He could have been the next Bob Dylan; in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia, he was even bigger than Elvis. His music was loved by the critics but ignored by audiences, and after two albums – titled Cold Fact and Coming From Reality – fell on deaf ears in the US, and his efforts proved commercially fruitless, the Detroit street-poet instantaneously fell from the face of the earth, vanishing into complete obscurity.
So, whatever happened to the talented and disturbingly underrated Detroit-born 70's soul-folk musician, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez? That's a question first-time Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, seeks answers to in one of the most compelling and touching music documentaries of the past decade.
Ingeniously titled, Searching for Sugar Man, the story takes us to South Africa where we learn that while Rodriguez never managed to find the artistic and marketable success in the US, his music – thanks to the bootlegging of his first album, Cold Fact – ended up playing a significant role in the apartheid-era. Rodriguez became the voice of the people despite governmental efforts to censor his record's 'offending' tracks; and for many years, he never even knew it.
With only a few pictures of Rodriguez available as proof that he really does exist, his devoted fans never really knew much about their beloved idol. Bizarre rumours surfaced alleging that he had committed suicide onstage during one of his failed performances, either by shooting himself or by setting himself on fire.
Rodriguez's legacy never died, even after the struggling apartheid years were long over. Often referred to as the 'prophet of the people', devoted fans, Segerman and Strydom, set out to undertake research, only to discover that their search only marked the beginning of something greater than initially imagined.
Well paced and cinematically striking, the film doesn’t fall back on simple on-camera interviews and narration, but rather, Bendjelloul adds a sense of intrigue and beauty using an evidently thought-out structure to his storytelling. Dazzling shots of Cape Town's skyline and striking animatics of Rodriguez walking the streets of his hometown play a big part in the story development; as a result there isn't one dull moment.
Rodriguez's songs play throughout the entire film and there is no denying the fact that this man – who was constantly compared to the likes of Dylan and Donovan – was unjustly disregarded. His soulful tracks and profound lyrics score the film and even though there is a sense of melancholy, the story still manages to find room for the positive, ultimately proving that it's never too late to fulfil your dreams.
Searching for Sugar Man is a truly fine documentary and a significant work of art. Although we would have liked to see a little bit more of the live-concert footage, and perhaps gotten to know a little bit more about what's hiding beneath the dark mysterious exterior, Searching for Sugar Man is still highly insightful and thoroughly entertaining.