Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Why? Because its thick with sludge. Moving briskly through a stranger-than-fiction, serpentine narrative that is still unfolding, Joe Berlingers remarkable documentary Crude recounts an infuriating litany of South American exploitation, back-room glad-handing and bureaucratic dead ends that has, among other collateral damages, created a Rhode Island-sized death zone of toxic pollution in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon. For nearly thirty years, beginning in the mid-1960s, the former Texaco oil company (acquired by Chevron in 2001) drilled for oil in Ecuador, in and around the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Cofán Indian community. In 1992, Texaco finally lost its government-granted concession and was forced to cede control of its drilling sites to state-owned Petroecuador. Three years later, Texaco conducted a purported environmental remediation as part of a $40 million settlement with the Ecuadorian government that, in turn, indemnified the company against any further government claims. And yet today the soil and waters of the area still run black with oil, the Cofán are dying of cancer at an alarming rate, and the buck for this enviro-disaster is being passed between Chevron and Petroecuador faster than a Bobby Hull slap shot. A master of true-crime verité, Berlinger (Brothers Keeper, Paradise Lost) does a superb job of taking us through the twists and turns of the decade-and-a-half, multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit filed by the Cofán against Chevron a legal battle nearly as long as the Amazon itself, and with no discernible end in sight. Crude runs October 16 through 22 at the Landmark Chez Artiste.
Oct. 16-22, 2009