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‘Justicia Now!’: Ecuadorans sue Chevron

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San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Justicia Now!’: Ecuadorans sue Chevron

Reyhan Harmanci
Thursday, April 17, 2008

When activist filmmakers and production partners Robbie Proctor and Martin O’Brien, of Mo Films, went to Ecuador in June 2007, they were planning to make a television pilot about activists. The idea for the pilot came from activist and actress Daryl Hannah, who is on the board of Mo Films.

They emerged with something else entirely: the seeds of a documentary about the world’s largest class-action lawsuit. The people of the northern Ecuadoran region of the Amazon rain forest are suing San Ramon-based Chevron for the environmental and human damage they claim was done by oil drilling without proper waste disposal. Cancer rates are higher in the area near the drilling.

Chevron vigorously denies that it has any liability left in the area. This week, when Ecuadoran activists lawyer Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and community organizer Luis Yanza won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the company contended that the prize givers had been “misled.”

Regardless, these filmmakers were moved. “We came back with a bunch of footage,” says O’Brien, “and dropped what we were doing.”

The resulting film, “Justicia Now! One People’s Fight Against Big Oil,” is available as a free download on the Mo Films Web site ( What the filmmakers found was oil detritus in what had been “paradise.”

“We walked out to a village in the Amazon and there was a big pit, like a football field, that was an open dump,” O’Brien recalls. “I realized what it was: an old oil field. I could see the oil seeping out.

“Like 50 feet away, there was a stream. It was solid black. I followed the stream down, and it opened up into two square pits, which were obviously man-made. There were three or four huts, with kids running around in that rainbow of toxicity.

“These kids were just running around,” O’Brien recalls. He says at the same spot he found a lizard, and at first he thought it was beautiful and colorful in the sunlight. In one part of the film, the lizard is seen – covered in oil, immobile, about to die.

A court-appointed expert has assessed the damages at $16 billion, but it is likely to be years before any Ecuadorans see restitution, if at all. “Look at the Exxon Valdez situation,” O’Brien says, noting that that 20-year-old case is still tied up in the courts. “(Chevron) has already petitioned the judge to throw out the 300-page assessment. That’s what they will continue to do.”

He adds, “It’s not too often that a bunch of activists and environmentalists have got Chevron on the run. They are definitely ducking and diving.”

8 p.m. today. The full documentary is available for free download at

The Roxie New College Film Center, 3117 16th St., S.F. (415) 863-1087,

– Reyhan Harmanci, [email protected]

This article appeared on page G – 36 of the San Francisco Chronicle and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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