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"Crude," Midnight Eye

Sickened, frustrated, angry, the world watches the worst environmental catastrophe in US history seep out across the Gulf of Mexico and towards the Atlantic. "The current disaster makes Joe Berlinger's documentary Crude — which screens on Monday at Facets as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival — more timely than ever." JR Jones explains in the Chicago Reader:

"Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) spent three years tracking the investigative phase of Aguinda v Texaco, a 1993 class-action suit filed against the US oil company (since absorbed by Chevron) by 30,000 Ecuadorans from the Amazon rain forest. The suit alleges that during the company's 28-year partnership with state-owned Petroecuador, Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste into the rain forest, leaving behind a 1,700-square-mile zone plagued by cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. By the time Berlinger got to the story in 2005, Texaco/Chevron had already spent nine years fighting to get the trial moved from New York to Ecuador, and it's still going on now, more than a year after the movie premiered at Sundance. The corporate tactics of denial, delay, and obfuscation documented in Crude are infuriating in their own right, but they also provide a preview of what we might expect from this new tragedy."

Those tactics extend to Chevron's taking legal action against Berlinger himself. Back in early May, AJ Schnack reported that "a judge's ruling may force filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over more than 600 hours of footage from his documentary... Chevron argued to US District Court Judge Lewis A Kaplan that the footage may help the company defend itself in the ongoing lawsuit and Kaplan agreed." About a week later, AJ Schnack noted that an open letter of support for Berlinger posted to the International Documentary Association site had racked up around 200 signatures from the community. He also linked to Bill Moyers and Michael Winship's piece in the Huffington Post: "Some of the issues and nuances of Berlinger's case are admittedly complex, but they all boil down to this: Chevron is trying to avoid responsibility and hopes to find in the unused footage — material the filmmaker did not utilize in the final version of his documentary — evidence helpful to the company in fending off potential damages of $27.3 billion. This is a serious matter for reporters, filmmakers and frankly, everyone else. Tough, investigative reporting without fear or favor — already under siege by severe cutbacks and the shutdown of newspapers and other media outlets — is vital to the public awareness and understanding essential to a democracy."

Update, 6/9: "Berlinger [yesterday] won a major reprieve in his battle against Chevron," reports Ted Johnson. The director and his attorney "said that a three-member federal appellate court today granted them a stay until July, when there will be a full hearing on whether to uphold a lower court decision that ordered him to turn over the raw footage. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in early July."

 

MIDNIGHT EYE


"One of the key influences on Japan's new wave, venerated by Nagisa Oshima, the subject of Western auteurist study as early as 1970 — there are those who consider Yasuzo Masumura to be Japanese cinema's fourth master," writes Tom Mes, who reviews the oeuvre at Midnight Eye.





"Other voices point to his reliance on genre tropes and excess as proof that the director of such films as Giants and Toys, Red Angel and The Blind Beast [image above] is undeserving of such plaudits."

Also: Bryan Hartzheim interviews Yoichi Sai, who's "chairman of the Directors Guild of Japan, makes frequent appearances on TV, and is well known for his association with two other auteur heavyweights: Nagisa Oshima, with whom he caught his big break working as an assistant director in In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no Koriida, 1976); and Takeshi Kitano, who Sai cast in his first screen role in his debut feature as a director, Mosquito on the 10th Floor (Jukkai no Mosquito). Sai and Kitano were even cast together as the leaders of the Shinsengumi samurai militia in Oshima's last film, Gohatto / Taboo."

Plus: Mes on Takashi Miike's Zebraman 2, which "explores the darker implications of adults avoiding their responsibilities in favor of pastimes they should have given up at the age of 18," Roger Macy on Mikio Naruse's Every Night Dreams (1933), "arguably one of the most famous Japanese films of the silent era," Mes again, on Kota Yoshida's Yuriko's Aroma, in which "the filmmaker once again explores the less conventional reaches of human desire," and Jasper Sharp on Live Tape, "Tetsuaki Matsue's low-fi, single-shot music documentary filmed on New Year's Day in 2009."

 

IN OTHER NEWS


On Saturday, I pointed to some alarming reports that Iranian artist and filmmaker Daryush Shokof had gone missing, last seen ready to board a train in Cologne for Paris. That very evening, that is, Saturday, he turned up "on the banks of the Rhine river in the suburb Cologne-Porz – completely soaked, and in a bad physical condition," according a story in the Kölnische Rundschau translated by German to English, where the entry's been updated with more from the Kölner Stadtanzeiger: "According to this article, three teenage pupils first discovered Shokof, who approached them with drenched clothes and in a disoriented state, reiterating in English: 'My name is Shokof, call the police, I’m kidnapped.'"

Hillel Italie for the AP: "David Markson, a revered postmodern author who rummaged relentlessly and humorously through art, history and human nature in such novels as Wittgenstein's Mistress and also wrote crime fiction, poetry and a spoof of Westerns made into the Frank Sinatra film Dirty Dingus Magee, has died at age 82." Do see Glenn Kenny's appreciation.

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