DVD: Crude – The Real Price of Oil


Aside from Sara McMillan, an environmental expert employed by Chevron whose canned statements and stone-faced stare suggest little to nothing in the way of credibility (Berlinger occasionally disproves what she's saying by following interview clips with shots that undercut them), a number of Chevron's arguments imply that a tremendously complex situation lies at the heart of this matter. Consider, for example, the notion that the Ecuadorian state-owned oil company Petroleos del Ecuador may have caused the greatest problems through ineptitude. Or the notion that fecal matter in Ecuadorian water may also have contributed to a substantial amount of local illness. Or the fact that Chevron-Texaco reportedly engaged in a massive clean-up effort with step-by-step procedures used to clean up polluted areas, efforts Texaco claims were undone when Petroleos del Ecuador arrived. And yet, it grows even more ethically murky than this, with the revelation that the Ecuadorian government reportedly gave Texaco written and signed permission to do much of what it did in that country.
This murkiness and complexity shouldn't come as a surprise to those familiar with Berlinger's prior work. One of his hallmarks as a filmmaker, for each project, is his ability to perceive multiple perspectives tied to the same issue or subject without losing his humanist core. For that reason, one expects a certain level of multidimensionality upon walking into one of Berlinger's films, and he gives it to us here in spades. In the final analysis, generating sympathy for the victims in this case feels like a default, but by pushing the issue into the gray areas -- complexities other directors might well have overlooked -- Berlinger continues to assert himself as the master of his craft and a documentarian resolutely opposed to oversimplification. ~ All Movie Guide


“Thorough and impassioned… intelligently and artfully made.”
- A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“A fascinating case study of real world political action.”
- Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

“Rarely have such conflicts been examined with the depth and power of Joe Berlinger’s documentary Crude. These real characters and events play out on the screen like a sprawling legal thriller.”
- Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“A forceful, often infuriating story about Big Oil and little people.”
- Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Transcendent! The film devastates the audience… Berlinger repeatedly turns his camera on images that shake us to our core… And as the film rolls forward, it generates an overwhelming amount of suspense… Berlinger continues to assert himself as the master of his craft.” - All Movie Guide

“Top 10 Best Documentaries of 2009.” - About.com

“Complex!…Crude is a head-on culture clash bursting with strong personalities.” - Esme McAvoy, The Independent

“A remarkable documentary…Gripping…Intrinsically cinematic…The most urgent film I’ve seen at Sundance this year.”
- Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

“A powerhouse of a documentary! This one means to shake you. And in Berlinger’s hands, it does.” -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“I would have sworn that The Cove had the Oscar sewn up for best documentary this year. But Joe Berlinger’s Crude, which opens next Wednesday (9.9.09), will be in the thick of the Oscar fight.”
-Marshall Fine, The Huffington Post

“An amazing, sobering, heartbreaking film. Beautifully shot, it captures the magic of the Amazon, and the horrors inflicted upon it … and also the beauty of the Ecuadorian people.”
- Howard Zinn, Author, A People’s History of the United States

“**** (four stars)!”
- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Excellent! Before seeing the late fall blockbusters, spare some time for…Crude.”
-Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

“A piece of magic … Crude is absolutely the most powerful, emotion-provoking, heart-wrenching, best documentary I have ever seen.”
- John Perkins, Author, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

“Crude should be on the short list for Academy Award consideration now that the word is spreading.”
- Roger Friedman, The Hollywood Reporter

“A gripping account of corporate malfeasance, striking a good balance between ecological elegy and real-life legal thriller.”
- Time Out London

“**** (four stars)!) Heartbreaking…ferociously exposes corporate inhumanity.”
- Elizabeth Weitzman, NY Daily News

“Had Michael Moore wanted to make a serious movie about capitalism, he would have made “Crude.” Joe Berlinger’s scorched-earth documentary and David-and-Goliath drama offers more than a few eco-outraged observations on the not-so-free enterprise system: As the film very eloquently implies, when the greater good is defined as profits, and a lack of culpability is proportionate to your number of shareholders, well . . . a lot of petroleum-soaked chickens will be coming home to roost.”
-John Anderson, The Washington Post

“Fascinating…sweeping…riveting!” - Mother Jones

“Superbly directed, powerfully emotional documentary that grips like an expert legal thriller — uplifting, suspenseful and utterly devastating, this is likely to be one of the best documentaries of the year.”
-Matthew Turner, View London

“Rousing! A classic David vs. Goliath face off… The anger onscreen spreads as slowly and inexorably as toxic sludge.”
-Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

“Tears tell no lies in the veteran filmmaker’s Crude, a Herculean work of investigative journalism that lays out the decades-long indignities suffered by an indigenous group living—or, rather, dying—in an area of Ecuador’s Amazon region ravaged by oil drilling.”
- Ed Gonzalez, Village Voice

“An international legal thriller that will quietly blow your mind.”
-David Schmader, The Stranger

“A cool-headed indictment.”
-Anthony Quinn, The Independent

“Artful…heartbreaking…Crude unfolds like a courtroom thriller.”
-Kevin Maher, The London Times>br>
“A festival favorite around the globe…Crude has all the elements of a good drama and thriller.”
-Angelique Flores, Home Media Magazine

“An engrossing case for justice. Colorful personalities on both sides, incriminating news/archival footage, slick assembly and Berlinger’s narrative smarts make this unusually involving…”
- Dennis Harvey, Variety

“If you like stories with real-life good guys and bad guys, then Crude is for you… Berlinger’s reputation as a skilled filmmaker-journalist and the topical subject matter make Crude must-viewing for those who care about the planet. It wouldn’t be surprising if the film has an impact on the legal wrangling in the courts, let alone popular knowledge and opinion.”
-Eric Monder, The Hollywood Reporter
“**** (four stars)! Joe Berlinger is one of our most skilled documentary filmmakers… and Crude requires his level of craftsmanship. An amazing cautionary tale combining idealism and hopelessness.”
- Filmcritic.com

“****! Gripping… A bracing and intelligent look at how such battles are (and perhaps must be) fought in a world that’s hardly lacking when it comes to tales of injustice… Crude ventures far beyond the parameters of the average enviro-doc.”
- Toronto Star

“Expertly crafted…Crude plays like a legal thriller, as entertaining as any, but wiser about justice than most.”
- Kenton Smith, Uptown Magazine

“***1/2! Powerful and powerfully upsetting.”
- Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

“**** (four stars!) With this gripping film, Berlinger has put himself back on the side of the angels.”
- Tom Huddleston, Time Out London

“On paper, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake Crude for a John Grisham story. It’s got all the hallmarks – sharp lawyers, raw greed, Big Business behaving badly. The difference is that this David-vs.-Goliath story is no work of fiction. Part eco-doc, part legal-doc, it is a troubling, real story – and a well-told one at that – that is inspiring and infuriating all at once.”
- Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Engrossing…Berlinger’s techniques give Crude the quality of a thriller, with all the investigative prowess of traditional journalism.”
- Jason Blair, Eugene Weekly

“**** (four stars!) while the current trend in documentaries is to take stories and wrap them into neat little packages, Crude runs merrily against the grain…like the best of Berlinger’s movies, it’s a film with no easy answers.”
- David Edwards, The Daily Mirror

“Both legal thriller and heartbreaking human rights drama.”
- Utne Reader

“‘Crude‘ is a knock-your-socks-off documentary that will leave you speechless. It’s the best documentary of the year.”

- Cole Smithey, ColeSmithey.com

“Eco-docs are bummers almost by definition, but here Berlingerʼs superb explanatory skills compensate for any tax on the viewerʼs conscience; what might have been a rote exercise in green sentimentality becomes a gripping, multifaceted thriller about media politics, global economics, and legal infighting.”
- The Chicago Reader

“A rage-making account of corporate colonialism.”
- Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
“The lefty doc of the fall is Crude. Joe Berlinger: Still the man.”
-Dan Fierman, GQ

“Equal parts courtroom thriller and political outrage… Excellent.”
-Joe Tropea, Baltimore City Paper

“Riveting… Berlinger clearly knows about balance in covering an important issue.”
- James Nelson, Agence France Presse

“**** (four stars)! A fascinating documentary…well-balanced…all the more incisive for its decision to eschew editorializing and let the evidence speak for itself.”
- Allan Hunter, The Daily Express

“Sophisticated… a compelling, multifaceted cinematic surrogate trial… Berlinger once again shows his skill for even-handed humanist storytelling.”
- Simon Abrams, The L Magazine

“****1/2 (four and a half stars)! A well-balanced and thought-provoking documentary that doesn’t forget that the cinemagoing experience needs to entertain as well as educate.”
- Amber Wilkinson, Eyeforfilm.com

“Remarkable! A stranger-than-fiction, serpentine narrative… Superb.”
- Scott Foundas, The Village Voice

“Absorbing…provocative yet conscientiously well balanced.”
- The Metro

“Gripping…important.” - ContactMusic

“Intense…CRUDE tells a hugely important story that’s packed with compelling characters.” - CineSnob

“Sundance’s nonfiction offerings are richer, truer, and more provocative than the narrative features, [with] a strong 2009 slate of environmentally minded documentaries like Crude… I hope this movie finds a home, and in theaters.”
- Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

“Compelling, complex, intimate...A must-see.”
- Jennie Punter, Toronto Globe and Mail

“A remarkable immersion into the worlds of human rights advocacy, multi-national corporate economics, the geo-political situation in Latin America, celebrity activism and the villages of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Fascinating, compelling and at times infuriating, Crude is a superb film.”
- Peter Metcalf, New West, Missoula, MT

“An elegantly structured, horrifying film.”
- Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press

“**** (four stars)… Captivating!”
- L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star

“An absorbing nonfiction legal thriller.” -John Hartl, SeattleTimes

“Enthralling… Although he follows events from the perspective of the Ecuadorians, Berlinger maintains a refreshing and clear-sighted intellectual honesty: Chevron’s representatives are allowed plenty of space to make their arguments.” - The Lancet

“Very well done and did a great job of presenting a twisted and complicated story in an even-handed manner. I’m very glad to have seen it.” - Jon Witmer, American Cinematographer

“Quietly compelling… A documentary that follows through on the promise of 1992’s Brother’s Keeper." - Bret Michel, The Boston Phoenix

“A modern-day look at the heart of darkness.” - Film Independent

“Crude is an important, heart-wrenching, alarming and brilliantly crafted cinema verite documentary.” - Jennifer Merin, About.com

“A classic David vs. Goliath story that you’d swear it was written by a well-meaning liberal screenwriter… It’s a splendid story complete with murder, corruption and political intervention from the highest level.”
- Dan Fienberg, Hitfix.com

“Compelling…Crude’s moving testimony and careful documentation make it hard to turn away.” - Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle

“Environmental documentaries in the last decade have had the predictability of an evangelical sermon or a going-out-of-business sale: The end is nigh, but act now and the bounty can still be yours. Crude is something else. A legal thriller, it’s a three-year investigation into the disaster environmentalists call the “Amazonian Chernobyl” that offers both sides of the story and leaves the viewer in the position of jury. What makes Crude worthy of the overused term “epic” is the way the case symbolizes a host of contemporary issues: the iron-fistedness of multinational corporations; environmental despoliation; the disappearance of indigenous cultures; and the power of celebrity and the media to influence justice.”
- Liam Lacey, Toronto Globe and Mail

“Crude has an edge-of-your-seat quality that’s more thriller than documentary, and Berlinger manages to convey the life or death urgency of the Ecuadorean situation. This is, in many ways, a shocking film, and Berlinger’s ability to connect the global dots is impressive.”
- Liz Braun, Jam! Movies

“Think of Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” not as a documentary… Think of this film instead as something from the pen of John Grisham, with themes like Whites brutalize an oppressed minority (”A Time to Kill”), “Characters enjoy their newfound wealth” (”The Firm”), oil tycoon drills in a Louisiana swamp endangering life (”The Pelican Brief”), A huge corporation defends itself against a plaintiff who develops lung cancer (”The Runaway Jury”). “Crude” is as riveting and entertaining as anything found in Grisham, and what’s more the events portrayed… really took place in an area that few Americans are familiar with.” - Harvey Karten, The Arizona Reporter

“Remarkably clear-eyed… In keeping with Berlinger’s excellent documentaries Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost, Crude is as concerned with the culture surrounding a legal action as it is in making a case.”
- Noel Murray, AVClub.com

“Crude captures the pitfalls of corporate greed. The film is a shocking revelation of the extent to which legal procedural tactics can determine the outcome of entire ecosystems and communities.”
- Deji Olukotun, PEN American Center

“Crude gives a kaleidoscopic view of the problem and the legal machinations involved in bringing the case to a conclusion.”
-Robert W. Butler, Kansas City Star

“A polished and haunting work of humanistic journalism, the film is passionate enough to follow its subjects in the ground-level combat of street demonstrations and office showdowns, and astute enough to understand the important roles a Vanity Fair article or a Trudie Styler endorsement can play in a cause. Crude is both a tribute to human-rights tenacity and a sobering account of the multinational-Moloch greed that can keep justice in limbo.”
- Fernando F. Croce, Slant Magazine

“Crude sometimes seems like improbably fiction, a story co-authored by Charles Dickens and Che Guevara.”
-Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

“Sensational and controversial. Eye Opening. So well-made it shouldn’t have any trouble getting distribution.”
- Roger Friedman, Foxnews.com

“This is a compelling story, well told by Berlinger.”
– Steve Apko / LoHud.com

“Epic.” - MSN Green

The American Chernobyl Case
"There is not a more controversial legal case existing today than the $27 million "Amazon Chernobyl" case. In "Crude" we see the real life drama set against the backdrop of the environmentalist movement tied with global politics and celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, corporate power and indigenous culture. The film shows us all of this from a situational viewpoint. Joe Berlinger's "Crude" shows a situation that got out of control and a battle was fought between lawyers. One side is the Ecuadorians who in 1993 filed a lawsuit against Texaco (which is now Chevron) for the practices which wreaked havoc when oil spilled over during drilling and the drinking and bathing water was contaminated. What they asked for was a sense of responsibility for something gone wrong. Opposite them was Texaco who claim two contradictory things--the environment scientist who says there is no contamination and that the people were getting sick from something besides the water and the local Texaco lawyers who admit that there us a confrontation but not by Texaco but by Petro-Ecuador. Berlinger presents the entire business with clarity and is fair to both sides and we, the audience, see what the case is about. It is a fight between a David and a Goliath and much came to be. The entire issue is like a legal thriller as well as an environmental mess and crisis in culture. We get no conclusion--Berlinger provokes us to think about the issues. He does have a moral imperative that Chevron accept the responsibility for what happened but that is a message that is there and we are not faced with a beating over the head about it. It is simply a movie of truth and tragedy." – Amos Lassen

"It's hard for me to know what to say about what I saw in this film. I'm deeply ashamed that our lifestyle could cause such suffering and destruction in other countries but the concept is not new to me because I know about what Shell has done in Nigeria. There is a great deal of heartbreak and much that causes shame in this movie. At the same time, It's uplifting to see Pablo Fajardo, a humble man from a fiscally poor but morally wealthy family, take on one of the most complicated cases in history in true David versus Goliath style.
The Ecuadorian people tell their own story in their own words from their homes and their forest. At first glimpse, you might think that these people are poor but before Texaco contaminated their world, they had everything they needed to live a simple life abundant with gifts from nature.
Texaco was fined $27 Billion for destroying this Ecuadorian Rain Forest but they have said they will never pay it.
The scientific expert working on this case says that this could never happen in the United States but he is dead wrong. As Elizabeth Burns said, it has happened and it continues to happen every day.
I live on top of the Barnett Shale in Wise County in North Texas. I have a blog, Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS, where I document industry abuses such as burying the waste pits or simply abandoning them. Like Elizabeth Burns, I have dozens of videos and hundreds of pictures. Come see for yourself." – Sharon Wilson, Decatur, TX

"This movie is so well done! The film lets the people involved speak for themselves. I just love watching the Chevron attorneys with their, "That's our story, we are sticking to it. You have no proof." defense. I live on a 38,000 acre ranch in South Texas where Texaco has operated since 1935 and Chevron Texaco continues to operate here. They are the only operators on their lease. We have the same pits that Ecuador has. There are sick people across Railroad Commission District #4. The municipal water supplies are full of volatile organics and other chemicals common in oilfield produced water. Texaco and ExxonMobil and a few other majors did the exact same practices in South Texas as they did in Ecuador. We deal with the stone faced arrogant oil company lawyers on a daily basis. They just lie endlessly. I hope that other people around the world see this movie and see how the companies behave. They didn't clean anything up in South Texas. People are sick here, too. I'm so glad that this movie was made and made well. People will realize that Chevron has a bigger mess than Ecuador. They need to clean up their mess and be truthful to their stockholders. Great work!"
– Elizabeth Todd Burns, Santa Elena, TX


Named One of the Top Five Documentaries of 2009 by the National Board of Review

"Critic's Pick! A legal thriller with rare depth and power." - Stephen Holden, The New York Times

"A powerhouse! This one means to shake you. And in Berlinger’s hands, it does." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

"Cinematic . . . Superb!" - Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

"A gripping account of corporate malfeasance." - Tom Huddleston, Time Out London

"Suspenseful . . . impassioned … intelligently and artfully made." - A.O. Scott, The New York Times

" Ferociously exposes corporate inhumanity." -Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

"A fascinating case study of real world political action." - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
"One of my favorite films of the year." - Manhola Dargis, The New York Times

"An amazing, beautifully shot film. It captures the magic of the Amazon and also the beauty of the Ecuadorian people." - Howard Zinn, Author of A People's History of the United States "A piece of magic ... absolutely the most powerful, emotion-provoking, heart-wrenching, best documentary I have ever seen." - John Perkins, Author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

"Gripping! Berlinger is a master of true-crime vérité." - Village Voice