This attention-grabbing documentary directed by Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper) centers on the dramatic story of a legal case that has dragged on for years: Aginda vs Chevron-Texaco. The plaintiffs are 30,000 individuals, including members of five indigenous tribes and colonial settlers in Ecuador who allege that over the course of its quest for oil, Texaco dumped over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and formation water directly into streams, river, and jungle floor of the Amazon rainforest. In addition, the company is said to have spilled 18 million gallons of crude oil from pipelines, burned more than 235 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere, and built nearly 1000 unlined toxic waste pits in the region an area approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island. Berlinger manages to broaden the documentary out beyond what has been called the "Amazon Chernobyl case" to include material on global politics, celebrity causes, environmental activism, human rights advocacy, the role of the media in controversial trials, the power and wealth of multinational corporations, and the unconscionable treatment of rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures.
At the center of this David vs Goliath struggle is Pablo Farjardo, the lead attorney for the Aguinda plaintiffs. He grew up in poverty in the Amazon region and attended college and law school under the sponsorship of the Catholic Church. In his first case, which has been running since November 1993, Farjardo is seen making his points during the judicial inspections of the affected regions, rallying support of indigenous tribes, and visiting with families who are suffering with cancer, skin conditions, and birth defects. In 2008, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco honoring his work along with Luis Yanza, President of the Amazon Defense Fund, who has been managing the day-by-day operations of the case. A large role has also been played by Steven Donziger, a New York-based attorney, who has provided invaluable strategy advice and seems to be very savvy about the importance of media coverage (the cover story about the case in Vanity Fair and the involvement of Trudie Styler, the co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation with her husband, the musician Sting).
The cause of Farjardo and associates is helped in 2007 when the new President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, tours the toxic areas and lends his support. The case for Chevron in the documentary is presented by Ricardo Reis, the Managing Counsel for Chevron Latin America; Sara McMillan, Chevron's Environmental Scientist who denies any connection between the company's operations and the deaths and health issues of the indigenous tribes; and Adolfo Callejas and Diego Larrea, the two attorneys representing Chevron.
The proceedings reach a climactic point when the findings of Richard Cabrera, an independent expert, are released. He was appointed by the court to conduct a "global assessment" of the region, evaluating the plaintiffs' claims and calculating the cost to repair any alleged damages. He found Chevron to be liable for up to $16 billion in damages (later amended to $27 billion) as compensation for health care, environmental remediation, reparations for loss of indigenous culture, cancer deaths, and the oil company's "unjust enrichment" from its operations. Chevron has rejected the report calling it biased and unqualified. And so, the case continues and we recall that the Exxon Valdez judgment took nearly two decades to appeal.
Special features on the DVD include an interview with director Joe Berlinger and Trudie Styler; coverage of a festival and premiere; deleted scenes; a photo gallery; and a resource guide.