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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Crude, a review of the movie by Joe Berlinger about oil company Chevron-Texaco in the Ecuador Amazon

A review of Crude, a documentary film following lawyers Pablo Fajardo and Steven Donziger as they try to win compensation from Chevron-Texaco, who dumped vast quantities of crude oil into the Amazon over a period of several decades.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Louisa Lee:  I’ve noticed that you’ve got a fine art background, rx how did this develop into illustration?

Zöe Barker: Since I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. I loved drawing the most so it seemed an obvious choice. I headed straight to University onto a Fine Art degree after school. I hadn’t considered anything other than being a painter. University was interesting; realism and portrait painting were not trendy and I struggled for a while with explaining my thoughts and concepts. The ideas that were getting great reactions – dark, illness crude or shocking, whacko performance art – were a bit frustrating and I didn’t know where I fit. I came close to transferring onto an Illustration degree, but decided that Fine Art was a great platform to work out my ideas and style. I began to understand how I wanted to communicate. I am really pleased that I stuck with that decision; during the last year of Art School ideas started forming that are still very much key in my work now. I started drawing in a way that achieved the right balance between craft and concept. When I left University I felt a bit stuck because I hadn’t received the advice or direction that a young illustrator could feed off, and my portfolio was essentially that of a fine artist. I kept getting told that my work wasn’t illustration but ‘real’ art, and I didn’t understand why illustration had to be so dumbed down, or why I had to be one or the other. I then started producing more drawings, giving them more of a purpose. I still felt like I was totally “blagging” it when I went for interviews, and was terrified to show my portfolio. I now have a better awareness of the sort of projects suited to me. It’s really important to not change the core of my art to get more work, but striving at refining and specialising.

LL: Does your fine art background affect how you respond to commissions?

ZB: I hope so. I don’t like the idea that illustration is seen as a commercial cop out, and Fine Art as airy-fairy business. When I was studying fine art I found it so demoralising walking around galleries and studios seeing stuff that didn’t mean anything. People explained their ‘work’ with sweeping intellectual breakdowns. I only really discovered illustration at Uni. I thought illustration was people doing cute little watercolours for kids books, or people who could draw pretending they couldn’t. Then my housemate showed me Charles Anastase fashion illustrations and it changed the way I looked at drawing.

I don’t see why illustration can’t be as weighty and thought provoking as fine art – I wonder whether we aren’t thinking enough of the reader when we use illustration merely to decorate a text. Fine art taught me to think about how I wanted to communicate most efficiently. I am not limited by ways to approach an idea, which helps in handling wider ranges of projects. I prefer to call myself an illustrator because it sounds like a proper job!

LL: Which artists or illustrators influence you?

ZB: Dryden Goodwin has been a huge influence. When I was in university he had produced a portrait of Sir Steve Redgrave. He’d meticulously drawn the same photograph 25 times and then animated it and looped it. All of the images are practically identical, but when animated the variations in the shading become apparent and suggest changes in the light. It’s beautiful; so simple but says so much about the nature of drawing and photography. When I first saw it I was having one of those days of cramming as many exhibitions into one day as I could, getting pretty demoralised by the work that I was seeing. Then I saw Sustained Endeavour and was blown away. I went to see that drawing so many times; when I had been having a bad day, when I need inspiration or reassuring. That sounds so cheesy, but I think that’s what art should be able to do. I have spent hours staring at his drawings, analysing his mark-making, literally breaking down how he uses a pencil. I’m pretty sure the Gallery staff thought I was mental. Justin Mortimer is also a massive influence on me. He’s done everything with paint that I wanted to do but didn’t come close to. Also Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, Hellovon, and Billie Jean.

LL: Your work manages to make the ordinary e.g. old cars, Tesco, Brylcream funny and interesting. What else inspires or influences your work?

ZB: I think I have a weird sense of humour! I get inspired to draw by lame things that everyone loves, like Coronation Street, or things totally unnecessary or ugly. I like looking at everyday objects/adverts and taking them out of context to show how bizarre they are. Especially stuff from when I was younger that I thought was super cool and then grew up and was like, really? Like Old Spice. You know that men’s fragrance? I’d buy my Grandad that every Christmas and think it was swanky as. I love seeing how time changes your perception. What I choose to draw is just funny, odd, awkward or outdated. I have a large collection of old National Geographics, suitcases of family photographs and other books and magazines from the 60s-80s. I love how excited everyone got about things like Thermos flasks. The sense of wonder you can see in people discovering these crazy ‘modern’ inventions. It seemed way more exciting back then; none of this Iphone, plasma TV, Playstation stuff. I found this advert in my book of modern day marvels describing the “new” ticket machine in the London Underground. It was describing how it ‘thought’ like some modern crazy robot, making sure it gave you the right change every time you used it. All of these things that we make out to be the best thing yet, and then the following year they get trashed for some slightly better update, and before you know it we’re laughing at our massive ‘brick’ phones. It just shows how fickle we are.

I’m probably most inspired by past ideologies; my Parents and Grandparents talk about how they lived when they were kids, and I think we’re missing out! I grew up in Suffolk, and going back there feels like a different time zone. Up until a couple of years ago the beer from the local brewery was still being delivered to the local pubs by a horse and cart. The contrast between the countryside and London living is fascinating; taking old-fashioned ideals of family, community and the local, and then mashing that up against power-dressing and corporate empires. That’s where the Tesco Values drawing came from. Tesco opened in my tiny, sleepy little town where you know every shopkeeper and where Woolworths had once been the peak of the high street shopping experience. It made me angry. And then I laughed at the obscurity of it and made a drawing. I think my drawings are kind of a nostalgic bid to hold onto outlooks on life that seem to be fading. That’s where my fascination with Volvos comes from. The family car encompasses an ideal of a family unit; safety and practicality over shiny good looks. What does life in England look like when these ideals have disappeared, and have been replaced with slick corporate efficiency and independent living?

LL: Most of your work seems to be in 3H pencil, why is this? Do you ever work in different colours or mediums?

ZB: I think pencils are underrated. I usually use 3H pencils. It’s just such a beautifully simple, honest process and it’s so delicate. I’ve done many drawings where I’ve obsessed over a particular area, and then realised the drawing has got over-worked. I usually bin it. If you start bombarding a pencil drawing with stacks of colour and different texture it loses its gentle and fragile charm. Drawing shouldn’t try to be high tech, showy, glossy, perfect thing, because it goes against everything that’s great about it. I like that it’s a process that everyone can get in on. There’s no mystery to it. You can say so much with a pencil mark because it’s so direct and undiluted. I like things simple and the idea of my equipment costing £3!

LL:  I like your pixellated work on graph paper, how did this come about?

ZB: During my degree I lost interest in painting portraits. I wanted to produce intricate paintings. The whole idea of re-mediation and reproduction fascinated me. I was getting really interested in photography and truth of representation theories. In my third year of my degree ahead of my final show, I stayed late in the studio and was sat in front of some painting I had done of a fisherman from an old National Geographic. I had loved the process and the realism of the painting, but was totally unimpressed with the concept of the finished piece. I hated the composition and was in a real state of frustration. So, I pulled it off the stretcher and started cutting it into little squares. I think my friends thought I’d gone a bit mad. But I was on some quest. I had to find a purpose for the work, a question I was trying to answer. That was the last painting I made. I started making drawings from photographs but using abstraction and pixilation, using different layers and materials, trying to understand photography through drawing. The pixel drawings came from the idea that photography had this privileged link with truth and representing the ‘real’, yet was totally flawed – taking old imagery and cropping it awkwardly and distorting it, then locking it behind an envelope window or a piece of tracing paper to show some kind of finality or impenetrable surface. I enjoy trying to push what drawing can do.
LL: What would be your ideal brief?

ZB: A hand-drawn billboard campaign for Volvo! My favourite jobs come from working with people who are passionate about what they’re trying to achieve. If I really believe in a project or a vision I’m sold. I’ve loved working for Howies and Bobbin Bicycles because they are clear about what they’re about and won’t compromise. People going against the flow get me excited. Obviously I’d also like to do the artwork for my favourite bands’ new albums and stuff like that, but then I sound like a 16 year old. That’s ok though. I’d love to collaborate with a musician or a band and produce artwork that is as important as the music it’s encasing.

LL: Where will we see your work next?

ZB: I have a couple of collaborations coming up. I’ll be contributing to each of Patrick Fry’s next set of No.Zines. The last three were ace! I’m also starting work for an exhibition with a photographer friend, focussing on ‘Tesco Values’, exploring how technological and cultural advances are affecting rural areas.
Wednesday 27th January, decease Ralfe Band, viagra Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, clinic and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
Wednesday 27th January, about it Ralfe Band, this Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, side effects and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
Wednesday 27th January, buy Ralfe Band, cheapest Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
Wednesday 27th January, more about Ralfe Band, cialis 40mg Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
Wednesday 27th January, thumb Ralfe Band, Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
Wednesday 27th January, drugs Ralfe Band, stuff Puregroove Records

bunny-and-the-bull-01

The excellent Ralfe Band provided the soundtrack to the magical Bunny And The Bull movie from late last year, and now said music is coming out on CD. To celebrate, the band are coming down to Pure Groove to play a special instore showcase. This will be a stripped down set, but their lovely instrumental flourishes will be as evident as it was on the excellent debut record.

Thursday 28th January, Quack Quack, Tuffnel Park Dome

quack-quack-logo

On the surface, Leeds trio Quack Quack seem to exist in some animated part-prog, part-post-rock indie hinterland, but closer inspection reveals a tight-knit instrumental trio who, in absorbing and acknowledging everything from dub, jazz, funk, and electronic music, subvert all tidy enclosures of prog-this or post-that.

Friday 29th January, So So Modern, The Lexington

sosomodern1

So So Modern create music that will make you want to shake your ass and rock out a the same time. Showcasing new songs from their forthcoming album Crude Future (released 15th of February) they will be getting you all hot and sweaty at the Lexington. The perfect way to spend a Friday night.

Saturday 30th January, Arar, Death to the King, Gum Takes Tooth, Dethscalator, Sunday Mourning, Team Brick, MKII Powers Croft Road

209679190_fdbf4b4cde

Team Brick headlines a night of loud, heavy, experimental music. Expecting big riffs, big beards, and plenty of shouting.

Sunday 31st January, Dag för Dag, The Old Blue Last

DagforDag_Press_1

Dag för Dag are fully armed with 5 tracks produced by Richard Swift in their US homeland and 7 tracks produced with Johannes Berglund in their Swedish new land. As a band that lives for the live stage, they had to speak long and hard to the mixing desk, the producers, the microphone and the cavernous walls of dark studios on hot summer days: “please capture the spirit and energy and magic witnessed on stage.” And so, with the help of two very determined recording magicians, Dag för Dag have created ‘Boo’, their very first full-length album. Come down to The Old Blue Last on Sunday to hear the songs as they were meant to be.
crude1-thereza rowe
Illustration by Thereza Rowe.

I suppose it’s quite a sad thing when I am no longer massively shocked by a movie that exposes what essentially adds up to murderous misdemeanour, pilule yet such are the times we live in. Yet another expose of a global corporation which – quelle surprise – specialises in the extraction of fossil fuels? Hell bent on making maximum profits for their shareholders, order at any cost to people and environment? Hell yeah! Bring it on!

Crude is an ambitious movie, mainly because film maker Joe Berlinger has decided to focus on the legal side of the story – and as we all know law can be impossibly complex to grasp. Especially when it involves a transnational case. The star of the story is local Ecuadorean lawyer Pablo Fajardo, who started working in the Texaco oil fields of the Amazon at just 14 years old. He was so disgusted by the injustices that he saw on a daily basis that he was motivated to get educated and get even. Through sponsorship from the Catholic church he trained to become a lawyer, and when he is not taking on the gigantic Chevron corporation (which merged with Texaco in 2001) Pablo is shown on his weekly philanthropic sessions with the impoverished locals. But the film doesn’t shy away from less obviously heroic characters, namely in the form of Steven Donziger - the American lawyer who wants to secure the all important funding of a major law firm which in itself hopes to make a big profit from a successful litigation. Steven is outspoken and could easily come across as the bullish westerner wading into a situation and country he understands little of, but it’s clear that the Ecuadoreans he works with feel great affection for this huge man (well, he seems that way, maybe it’s just that the Ecuadoreans are small).

From the lush riverbanks or the Ecuadorean tribes’ contaminated homeland to the snowy streets of Manhattan – where Steve frolics with his cute dog – we follow the story of these lawyers’ fight to hold Texaco accountable for the disgusting mess they have left the Amazon in. Astonishing scenes from the outdoor field inspection show the lawyers for both sides contemplating great scoops of thick oozy tar, dug out from just centimetres below the allegedly remediated ground (a complex ten step process to clean up the wanton dumping of billions of tonnes of toxic waste). The increasingly worried Chevron lawyers grasp at ever shortening straws, eventually foisting blame onto the local (and far from faultless) Petroecuador company (who took over the oil fields in the 1990s). It is these moments which provide the movie with its funniest scenes – for the employees of Chevron are wanton in the digging of their own graves, giving away their lies with simple slips of the tongue. It’s very amusing.

Illustration for Crude by Thereza RoweIllustration by Thereza Rowe.

Once Pablo appears in the “Green Issue” of Vanity Fair Steven goes on a mission to secure celebrity endorsement for the cause, which is found in the form of Trudi Styler, who flies by private helicopter out to Ecuador to see the sights for herself. “My husband and I…” she introduces herself to a bemused gathering of locals, who were probably wondering if all white women have their eyes pinned open like permanently startled rats (the odious Chevron chemist suffers from the same ‘problem’). I found watching these scenes excruciating to watch, especially when the self-effacing Pablo, who still lives with his mum in a modest house full of books, is invited to a huge charity shindig in New York put on by Trudi and Sting’s Rainforest foundation. Here he is asked if he knows who The Police are. “No,” he laughs, waving his pass, “but now I’m with Sting!”

Despite the winning of a CNN Hero trophy, we’re left hanging at the end of the film, for this case is far from concluded. Even after the election of a new Ecuadorean president who is far less sympathetic to American multinationals, it could take up to 10 years for the case to get through court and for compensation to be agreed. And how do you compensate for the mass degradation of an entire region (the oil left behind is equivalent to 30 times that dumped by the Exxon Valdez), the loss of culture and the possible-but-almost-impossible to prove loss of life? Cancers and skin conditions are rife amongst the jungle inhabitants who have been known to build their shacks on top of old pits without knowing they are there and who drink, wash and play in the oily water on a daily basis.

We’re left with a shot of Trudi returning to install plastic rain water butts to ensure clean water for 4000 locals, but I could not help but wonder, how helpful is this in the long term? When so much damage has been done, how much does it help for strange looking white people to parachute in with quick fixes when there is no permanent solution in sight? And what does a permanent solution look like anyway? How on earth do we sort out the mess we’re in, one that stretches far further than those beautiful Amazon forests, the “lungs of the earth”?

I’ve sadly become almost inured to tales of depraved large multinationals, but films like this are essential in furthering stories like that of Chevron in Ecuador, especially when the fight is far from over. Like the Vanity Fair article that so excites Trudi, tipping points are essential in maintaining pressure on those who would not be held accountable for their actions: long may film makers follow these kind of subjects.

We previously blogged about Crude in June last year, including an interview with the director. Catch this piece here.
You can catch Crude at the ICA for a few more days, and at selected cinemas across the country.

crude-poster
crude1-thereza rowe
Illustration by Thereza Rowe.

I suppose it’s quite a sad thing when I am no longer massively shocked by a movie that exposes what essentially adds up to murderous misdemeanour, salve yet such are the times we live in. Yet another expose of a global corporation which – quelle surprise – specialises in the extraction of fossil fuels? Hell bent on making maximum profits for their shareholders, pills at any cost to people and environment? Hell yeah! Bring it on!

Crude is an ambitious movie, mainly because film maker Joe Berlinger has decided to focus on the legal side of the story – and as we all know law can be impossibly complex to grasp. Especially when it involves a transnational case. The star of the story is local Ecuadorean lawyer Pablo Fajardo, who started working in the Texaco oil fields of the Amazon at just 14 years old. He was so disgusted by the injustices that he saw on a daily basis that he was motivated to get educated and get even. Through sponsorship from the Catholic church he trained to become a lawyer, and when he is not taking on the gigantic Chevron corporation (which merged with Texaco in 2001) Pablo is shown on his weekly philanthropic sessions with the impoverished locals. But the film doesn’t shy away from less obviously heroic characters, namely in the form of Steven Donziger - the American lawyer who wants to secure the all important funding of a major law firm which in itself hopes to make a big profit from a successful litigation. Steven is outspoken and could easily come across as the bullish westerner wading into a situation and country he understands little of, but it’s clear that the Ecuadoreans he works with feel great affection for this huge man (well, he seems that way, maybe it’s just that the Ecuadoreans are small).

From the lush riverbanks or the Ecuadorean tribes’ contaminated homeland to the snowy streets of Manhattan – where Steve frolics with his cute dog – we follow the story of these lawyers’ fight to hold Texaco accountable for the disgusting mess they have left the Amazon in. Astonishing scenes from the outdoor field inspection show the lawyers for both sides contemplating great scoops of thick oozy tar, dug out from just centimetres below the allegedly remediated ground (a complex ten step process to clean up the wanton dumping of billions of tonnes of toxic waste). The increasingly worried Chevron lawyers grasp at ever shortening straws, eventually foisting blame onto the local (and far from faultless) Petroecuador company (who took over the oil fields in the 1990s). It is these moments which provide the movie with its funniest scenes – for the employees of Chevron are wanton in the digging of their own graves, giving away their lies with simple slips of the tongue. It’s very amusing.

Illustration for Crude by Thereza RoweIllustration by Thereza Rowe.

Once Pablo appears in the “Green Issue” of Vanity Fair Steven goes on a mission to secure celebrity endorsement for the cause, which is found in the form of Trudi Styler, who flies by private helicopter out to Ecuador to see the sights for herself. “My husband and I…” she introduces herself to a bemused gathering of locals, who were probably wondering if all white women have their eyes pinned open like permanently startled rats (the odious Chevron chemist suffers from the same ‘problem’). I found watching these scenes excruciating to watch, especially when the self-effacing Pablo, who still lives with his mum in a modest house full of books, is invited to a huge charity shindig in New York put on by Trudi and Sting’s Rainforest foundation. Here he is asked if he knows who The Police are. “No,” he laughs, waving his pass, “but now I’m with Sting!”

Despite the winning of a CNN Hero trophy, we’re left hanging at the end of the film, for this case is far from concluded. Even after the election of a new Ecuadorean president who is far less sympathetic to American multinationals, it could take up to 10 years for the case to get through court and for compensation to be agreed. And how do you compensate for the mass degradation of an entire region (the oil left behind is equivalent to 30 times that dumped by the Exxon Valdez), the loss of culture and the possible-but-almost-impossible to prove loss of life? Cancers and skin conditions are rife amongst the jungle inhabitants who have been known to build their shacks on top of old pits without knowing they are there and who drink, wash and play in the oily water on a daily basis.

We’re left with a shot of Trudi returning to install plastic rain water butts to ensure clean water for 4000 locals, but I could not help but wonder, how helpful is this in the long term? When so much damage has been done, how much does it help for strange looking white people to parachute in with quick fixes when there is no permanent solution in sight? And what does a permanent solution look like anyway? How on earth do we sort out the mess we’re in, one that stretches far further than those beautiful Amazon forests, the “lungs of the earth”?

I’ve sadly become almost inured to tales of depraved large multinationals, but films like this are essential in furthering stories like that of Chevron in Ecuador, especially when the fight is far from over. Like the Vanity Fair article that so excites Trudi, tipping points are essential in maintaining pressure on those who would not be held accountable for their actions: long may film makers follow these kind of subjects.

We previously blogged about Crude in June last year, including an interview with the director. Read this piece here and watch a great cut on youtube here.
You can catch Crude at the ICA for a few more days, and at selected cinemas across the country.

crude-poster

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