Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 7

It's only half over. Two more movies last night.

First off was a great and important documentary, CRUDE. Dating back decades, Texaco developed and exploited the oil resources of wide swaths of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. They had horrible environmental controls, giant pits of crude and sludge which washed into the streams and poisoned the indigenous people. The rates of cancer, skin rashes, premature death went through the roof. It's estimated that they've spilled 17 million gallons of oil, nearly twice that of the Exxon Valdez. Texaco was bought out by Chevron, who disavows all responsibility (alternately claiming there is no mess and that the mess is the fault of state-owned partner PetroEcuador). In the 90's a class action suit was brought against Chevron on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoreans endangered by the environmental damage. Chevron has delayed for years (the movie presumes their goal is to simply outlast the plaintiffs rather than win the trial). Several times in the film the "David and Goliath" nature of the case is referenced, and rookie lawyer Pablo Fajardo, representing the Ecuadoreans, is in the role of David. Filmmaker Filmmaker Joe Berlinger (METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, BROTHER'S KEEPER) travelled to Ecuador to document a segment of the trial (obviously with how long the trial has dragged on, in particular, if he tried to document the whole trial he'd still be there for many more years. But he was there for the judicial inspections of the contaminated sites). He tries to give Chevron it's fair chance to speak (his website includes a link to Chevron's site), although I wasn't the only one in the San Francisco audience who thought their arguments were full of crap (and one of their Latin American officers is now under indictment for fraud). He is also there as Pablo Fajardo begins to become something of a star in activist human rights circles, winning the Goldman Prize (the environmentalist's Nobel Prize) and winning a CNN's Hero's award. His fight wins the attention of the Rainforest Foundation (founded by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler), and Trudie travels to Ecuador to survey the damage. Pablo is even featured at their 2008 benefit concert in Giants Stadium (where in a wonderful piece of humble good humor that reminds us what's important, he admits he's never heard of The Police or their music). Great movie, and an important subject. Unfortunately, it doesn't end with much hope for a speedy resolution, as judges in Ecuador for some reason are forced to switch cases every few years, and a new judge has to read everything (not just boxes, but a room full of evidence) before he could even think of ruling. In the meantime, it was a frustratingly long time before anyone implemented a temporary workaround of collecting and filtering rainwater for drinking (credit the Rainforest Foundation and UNICEF for that). As a physicist, I couldn't help but watch the movie thinking, 'they're in the freakin' rainforest, there's got to be a way to be an engineering solution to get them clean water!' I know, it's a stop-gap solution, but when we're talking about preserving life, temporary and now is better than permanent and 20 years from now.

Anyway, after that film I needed A: a drink, and B: a comedy. "A" was provided by a Chimay and then a Speakeasy Prohibition Ale at the Kabuki bar. "B" was provided by SMALL CRIME, a cheerful little film from Greece. Rookie cop Leonidas is bored by life on his small island. Nothing ever happens, and it's the kind of small community where driving without a license, or registration, or license plate, or brake lights, is dealt with by a not-very-stern warning. About the only excitement on the whole island is watching a popular morning talk show, hosted by the Angeliki, the (formerly) local girl who made it big. He gets some real excitement when an old man, Zacharias, is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. The chief assumes Zacharias was drunk (he had a reputation) and fell to his death, but Leonidas (possibly just for something to do) launches a full investigation, puttering around the island, interviewing locals, and picking up clues (shoes at the top of the cliff...?). Each resident has his own (often comical) take on Zacharias' demise, and when Angeliki returns to the island, the investigation takes a strange (and romantic) turn. Even with my exhaustion and a couple beers making it hard to stay awake, it was still a very enjoyable, light, and funny movie.

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