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Cancer victim Maria Garofalo is reflected in the stream behind her Ecuadorean home in Joe Berlinger’s epic documentary Crude.

3 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Joe Berlinger
  • With Pablo Fajardo, Steven Donziger and Trudy Styler
  • Classification: NA

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.

The plaintiffs in the case are roughly 30,000 Ecuadoreans living in the Amazonian rain forest who claim that oil company Texaco (subsequently Chevron) dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the forest from the 1960s to the 1990s. Their class-action suit is for $27-billion (U.S.).

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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.

Director Joe Berlinger - who created such memorably intimate documentaries as the dairy-farm fratricidal tale Brother's Keeper as well as Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster - paints on a broad canvas here. He joins the trial midway and fills in the picture. We see oil-soaked earth and cancer-stricken families, babies with sores on their bodies. We also meet a collection of vivid characters, including the Ecuadorean oil-field labourer turned lawyer Pablo Fajardo and his voluble Upper West Side adviser, Steven Donziger.

Crude runs at the Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Oct. 9to Oct. 15 (416-516-2330).

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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