PARK CITY, Utah — Environmental movies with a message are taking center stage at the 25th Sundance Film Festival, with films ranging from vanishing bees and threatened dolphins being screened here.
“We are ravaging the earth. We need to think how we treat our resources but more importantly how we treat the people,” said director Joe Berlinger in an interview with AFP.
Berlinger’s latest documentary “Crude” in the US Documentary Competition is the riveting story of five Ecuadoran tribes as they seek justice from oil giant Chevron.
“We as a society fill our gas tanks but don’t think where these products come from. It’s our moral responsibility to know. I hope that’s what people get out of this film,” Berlinger said.
Berlinger deftly introduces the tribes and their way of life deep in the jungle rainforests of the Amazon. Gradually the “paradise” quiet jungle life is revealed to have been poisoned decades earlier by oil producers. Waste pits from oil production are visited by both legal teams as charges and counter charges are leveled. The inspections, delays, arguments and legal wrangling are coupled with endless frustration.
“It’s a great David and Goliath story,” Berlinger said, adding, “It will be decades before this is decided. In the meantime the people will suffer. It’s a shameful chapter in our history.”
Lawyers for the tribes go on a marathon legal run to harness evidence, witnesses and support before ever hoping for a chance against resources employed by Chevron.
Berlinger clearly knows about balance in covering an important issue. Lawyers and scientists representing Chevron appear throughout the movie offering their viewpoint.
“It’s a film about the process about the process of justice. I’m not saying who is guilty. The film doesn’t try to solve who is responsible. I let each side have their say,” said Berlinger.
The film also shows how legal teams prepare for court appearances and how they strive to have their side presented in the media spotlight.
The legal war is accompanied by a public relations battle that features radio and television appearances along with efforts to bring government pressure to bear on the issue.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa sides with the tribes’ dilemma and rock star Sting and his wife Trudie Styler trumpet their plight.
“I consider it our fight as well,” said Trudie Styler in the film.
Berlinger is no stranger to Sundance where he won the audience award with “Brother’s Keeper” (1992). Other credits include “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.”
Other Sundance films serving up environmental green to movie audiences include “Earth Days,” directed by Robert Stone. Stone’s film explores the environmental movement through those heavily involved in it.
Director Rupert Murray’s “The End of the Line” is based on a book by journalist Charles Clover and reveals the impact of overfishing on the oceans.
Using humor “Dirt! The Movie,” directed by Bill Beneson and Gene Rosow, shows how humans are destroying the last natural resource on earth.
“The Beekeepers” screening in the New Frontiers category uses an experimental approach to entice audience-goers. Director Richard Robinson mixes ancient accounts of beekeeping, black and white film clips, contemporary film with his own artistic narrative to get peoples’ attention.
“The bees tell us what is going on in the environment,” said Robinson.
Robinson himself is a beekeeper and says he interviewed beekeepers in the United States including a NASA scientist who tracks global warming by studying bees. Robinson points to Colony Collapse Disorder which is killing bees worldwide.
“You’re going to have a host of problems. The bees are like a tractor for a farmer. They pollinate the crops and increase yields on the crops,” said Robinson.
“The Cove” directed by Louie Psihoyos follows the demise of dolphins and disappearing whales off a coastal village in Japan. A group of activists led by Ric O’Barry (Flipper) reveal the environmental crisis.