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Eco Doc Premieres In San Francisco

The titanic struggle between American oil interests and the rights of native peoples creates a mosaic of political corruption and corporate greed that is at the heart of CRUDE, the latest cinematic essay by acclaimed American documentarian Joe Berlinger that is having its West Coast Premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival this week. The prolific filmmaker is best known for his collaborative projects with partner Bruce Sinofsky on the award-winning documentaries BROTHER'S KEEPER, PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS and its sequel REVELATIONS: PARADISE LOST 2.

For this timely study of ecological disaster, Berlinger goes it alone to tell a harrowing tale of a class action lawsuit initiated by native peoples in Ecuador who battle the oil giant Chevron, which spilled nearly 17 milllion gallons of oil into rainforest waterways and soils that have sustained the natives for millenia.

The veteran director poses a question: Can plaintiffs from five indigenous Ecuadoran tribes find justice from Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil producers? In this David and Goliath story, Berlinger took three years to craft a cinema vérité portrait centering on the charismatic lawyers in the U.S. and Ecuador who have doggedly pursued the case against all of the forces a corporation can bring into courts of law. Though the Ecuadorans and their perspective receive the lion's share of screen time, the film makes a concerted effort to show the case from all sides: from the scientists and lawyers employed by Chevron, to Ecuadoran judges, to celebrity activists and humanitarian organizers. The film also examines the role of the media in setting up the titanic battle, including the dramatic intervention of Rafael Correa, the first Ecuadoran president to sympathize with the native peoples.

The film is not only a riveting tale of courtroom drama, but also takes a thoughtful look at the conflict between progress and tradition, while exploring issues of energy dependence and appropriate corporate behavior. The themes are incendiary but very relevant as the world copes with the explosion of population, increasing demand for oil and concerns about the effects of modernization on the ecosystem of the planet.

Berlinger, who is also an award-winning makers of commercials and music videos, is no stranger to controversy. His earlier films unearthed potential miscarriages of justice that led to reassessments of assumed guilt and innocence. His future projects include a music documentary on blues legend B.B. King, as well as EDUCATION OF A FELON, bout prison novelist Edward Bunker, and FACING THE WIND, based on Julie Salamon's nonfiction bestseller about multiple murdere Robert Rowe. For more information on CRUDE and other Berlinger projects, visit:

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor

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