Crude (2009 film)

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Crude filmstill1.jpg
Film still
Directed byJoe Berlinger
Produced byJoe Berlinger
Michael Bonfiglio
J.R. DeLeon
Richard Stratton
CinematographyPocho Alvarez
Joe Berlinger
Michael Bonfiglio
Juan Diego Pérez
Edited byAlyse Ardell Spiegel
Music byWendy Blackstone
Distributed byEntendre Films
Radical Media
Red Envelope Entertainment
Third Eye Motion Picture
First Run Features
Release date
  • January 18, 2009 (2009-01-18) (Sundance)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States

Crude is a 2009 American documentary film directed and produced by Joe Berlinger.[1] It follows a two-year portion of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador.


The film follows the progress during 2006 and 2007 of a $27 billion legal case brought against the Chevron Corporation following the drilling of the Lago Agrio oil field, a case described by activists as an "Amazon Chernobyl".[2]

The plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit are 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazonian rainforest who claim their ancestral homeland has been polluted by the oil industry. In addition to the legal struggle, Crude shows interviews from representatives of the plaintiffs and defendants of the class action lawsuit, and explores the influence of media support such as Vanity Fair, celebrity activism including support from musical artist Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, the power of multinational corporations, the shifting power in Ecuadorian politics, and rapidly disappearing indigenous cultures explored in the movie.

The film ends with a prediction the lawsuit will not be resolved for another decade or so unless an out of court settlement is arranged.


  • Juan Diego Perez
  • Pocho Alvarez
  • Joe Berlinger (producer of Crude)
  • Michael Bonfiglio
  • Sting (activist, artist and co-founder of Rainforest Foundation Fund)
  • Trudie Styler (activist, producer, and co-founder of Rainforest Foundation Fund with her husband Sting)
  • Adolfo Callejas (Ecuadorian lawyer on behalf of Chevron-Texaco)
  • Steven Donziger (American lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs)
  • Pablo Fajardo (Ecuadorian lawyer on behalf of the plaintiffs)
  • Diego Larrea (Ecuadorian Lawyer on behalf of Chevron-Texaco)
  • Rafael Correa (President of the Republic of Ecuador)
  • Sara McMillen (Chief Environmental Scientist for Chevron)
  • Ricardo Reis Veiga (Corporate counsel for Chevron Latin America)

Subpoena of footage[edit]

Chevron noted that a scene in the film Crude presented at the Sundance Film Festival, showed an environmental scientist present at a legal strategy meeting of plaintiffs' lawyers; that same scientist was later appointed by the Ecuadorian court as an ostensibly impartial expert to write a report on technical issues. However, the scene was cut from the theatrical release; Chevron lawyers wanted to know what other potentially compromising scenes were left out by Berlinger. On May 6, 2010 federal judge Lewis Kaplan sided with a petition submitted by Chevron and ruled that Berlinger turn over more than 600 hours of original footage created during the film's production. Chevron had sought to subpoena the footage as part of the ongoing lawsuit discussed in the film. Berlinger's legal team has maintained that the footage is protected by reporters' privilege and appealed the court's decision.[3]

In his appeal, Berlinger noted that he was a highly awarded and respected independent filmmaker, that he was independent of Donziger, and argued that he had in fact gone to great lengths to make Crude a balanced portrayal.[4] Berlinger acknowledged that he had "tweaked" some scenes at Donziger’s request.[5] The scene showing the environmental scientist at the legal strategy session had been cut from the theatrical release (but not the online version for Netflix) after one of the plaintiff lawyers objected to Berlinger that showing the scene was “so serious we could lose everything." The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed the scope slightly (Berlinger had to turn over 500 hours of outtakes, rather than 600), but in 2011 upheld the lower court ruling against Berlinger, Judge Pierre Leval writing for the court: "Those who do not retain independence as to what they will publish but are subservient to the objectives of others who have a stake in what will be published have either a weaker privilege or none at all."[6]

The evidence provided by the film outtakes played an important role in Chevron obtaining a 2014 US court ruling that the American lawyers for the plaintiffs had used fraud and corruption in obtaining the $19 billion Ecuadorian court judgment against Chevron.[7] That judgment was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on August 8, 2016.[8]


According to Chevron, the outtakes indicate the filmmakers were on notice that the plaintiffs were engaging in seriously shady tactics against Chevron—but failed to address it in their production. On September 7, 2018 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague unanimously issued an award in favor of Chevron and Texaco Petroleum Company. The decision concluded that the judgment in Ecuador was fraudulent, corrupt and “should not be recognised or enforced by the courts of other States.” The amount Ecuador must pay to Chevron to compensate for damages is yet to be determined. The award found that Ecuador violated its obligations under international treaties, investment agreements and international law. The Court of Arbitration’s findings of fraudulent activities included:

  • That the evidence placed before the Court is “the most thorough documentary, video, and testimonial proof of fraud ever put before an arbitral tribunal."
  • That the plaintiffs championed by the film actually were engaged in blackmail and bribery of Ecuadorian judges. Their efforts triggered an order to appoint an “expert” friendly to the plaintiffs.
  • That Ecuadorian government prosecutors “actively cooperated” with the plaintiffs.
  • That the plaintiffs bribed the “experts” and ghostwrote their report.
  • That the plaintiffs paid a retired judge to draft the acting judge’s orders—and that the same judge solicited bribes that Chevron refused to pay.[9]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 65 reviews, and an average rating of 7.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Dynamic, tightly arranged, and deliberately provocative, Joe Berlinger's Crude is a sobering, enraging wake-up call."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Crude was reviewed in The New York Times,[12] in LA Weekly,[13] on AlterNet,[14] and by Howard Zinn.[citation needed]


Crude premiered on January 18, 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival and had its theatrical premiere on September 9, 2009, at the IFC Center in New York City.[15]

Film festivals (partial list)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Crude at IMDb
  2. ^ McAvoy, Esme (10 January 2010). "Who will pay for Amazon's 'Chernobyl'?". The Independent. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  3. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (6 May 2010). "Judge Rules that Filmmaker Must Give Footage to Chevron". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  4. ^ Berlinger, Joe (27 May 2010). "Declaration of Joe Berlinger" (PDF). Crude Productions, LLC. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  5. ^ Folkenflik, David (4 June 2010). "A 'Crude' awakening: Chevron Vs. The documentarian". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  6. ^ Isler, Tom (29 March 2014). "What 'Chevron Corp. v. Donziger' Continues To Get Wrong about Documentary Filmmaking". Documentaries and the Law Blog. University of Pennsylvania Law School. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  7. ^ Krauss, Clifford (4 March 2014). "Big Victory for Chevron Over Claims in Ecuador". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  8. ^ Hurtado, Patricia (8 August 2016). "Chevron Wins Ruling Blocking $8.6 Billion Order in Ecuador Fight". Bloomberg Markets. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  9. ^ Krauss, Michael I. "Justice Delayed But Not Denied: Corrupt Ecuadorean Process Fails In International Arbitration". Forbes.
  10. ^ "Crude (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Crude Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  12. ^ Dargis, Manohla (22 January 2009). "In the Snows of Sundance, a Marked Chill in the Air". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  13. ^ Foundas, Scott (22 January 2009). "Sundance Film Festival 2009: Crude Realities". LA Weekly. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  14. ^ Shan, Han (26 August 2009). "'Crude': The Film Chevron Doesn't Want You to See". AlterNet. Independent Media Institute. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Crude". IFC Center. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2018.

External links[edit]