Art house drama hits real life
Talk about topicality: As the cataclysmic Gulf oil spill continues apace — and, not incidentally, as activists prepare to gather in Houston Wednesday to protest at the Chevron shareholders meeting — the Angelika Film Center will present a special screening of Sweet Crude, an acclaimed documentary about the true cost of oil, the global environmental crisis, and the struggle for resource control in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
But wait, there’s more: After the screening, there’ll be a panel discussion with Macon Hawkins, an oil worker who, despite his experiences as a hostage held by Niger Delta militants, remains sympathetic to the needs of the region’s people; Emem Okon, a leader of Nigeria’s women’s movement; Omoyele Sowore, an activist from a Chevron production area in Nigeria, now a U.S.-based journalist; and Sandy Cioffi, director of Sweet Crude, who attracted international attention in April 2008 when she, her production crew and a Nigerian colleague were arrested by members of the Nigerian military in an effort to shut down the film.
And why, you might ask, were those soldiers so eager to impede production of Sweet Crude? Well, maybe they were image-conscious soldiers. As my Variety colleague John Anderson noted in his rave review of the film, Cioffi doesn't paint a pretty picture:
“After 50 years and $700 billion in oil sucked out of the ground by Royal Dutch Shell and its co-conspirator, Chevron, the Niger Delta is among the most polluted places on Earth, says UC Berkeley geography professor Michael Watts, Cioffi's most astute talking head. Watts clarifies something else essential about Nigeria: "The exploited African nation is a very shaky, rickety federation that isn't a natural nation at all, but has always been a ripe candidate for divide-and-conquer colonialism."
“This is not the movie I intended to make," Cioffi says in her initial voiceover, explaining she was there to make a movie about a library, the construction of which marked a rare collaboration between the government, oil companies and usually contentious tribal interests. But the students involved used the opening ceremony to mount a protest over their exploited resources, and Cioffi knew she had another movie to make.
It's a movie that may find a sizeable and concerned audience here in H-Town, which reportedly has one of the largest Nigerian populations of any United States city.