IN 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in Alaska, Americans were inundated with the media attention given to the wreckage, complete with heartbreaking images of black-slicked baby seals. It's less commonly known, however, that the Ecuadorian Amazon has contamination levels estimated to be at least 30 times as severe, and that 30,000 Ecuadorians have been locked in a legal battle seeking remediation since 1992. And if you think baby seals are upsetting, wait until you see the effects on the indigenous people whose water and soil are contaminated with the toxic sludge.
Along with the support of activist organizations to save the Amazon (and Trudie Styler!), director Joe Berlinger's (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) documentary Crude aims to rectify this ignorance in hopes of throwing more weight behind the little guys fighting the corporate goliath Chevron, who inherited the lawsuit when it bought out Texaco. The case is complicated—the poisoned land in question has changed hands between American and Ecuadorian oil companies over the decades—but the cumulative damage leaves little to the imagination. Babies there are prone to horrible skin rashes. Cancer is rampant, killing even teenagers. Families who are too poor to move can't better their circumstances because their livestock keep dying, a woman explains, even as a duck hemorrhages nearby.
Chevron, for its part, is undermining itself by both denying that the oil present in the soil and water is causing harm, while simultaneously blaming the harm done on the Ecuadorian company that used the land after Texaco's initial tenure. The complications of the epic case are myriad, and Berlinger takes us backstage to witness the difficulty in bridging very different systems (and methods of corruption) in both countries. Meanwhile, the spills' repercussions are still being felt—a sad flipside to the triumphant fact that it's a miracle the case has even made it this far.