Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith’s documentary feature, Oil & Water, tackles the contamination of the Amazon River region in Ecuador, due to poor environmental practices by the oil companies drilling there, by focusing in on the stories of two unique individuals. Hugo Lucitante is a member of the Amazonian Cofán tribe, once a large community whose numbers, and land, have dwindled over the years. The first of his tribe to receive an education in the United States, Hugo carries the future of his community on his shoulders as he learns all he can so he can return to his town to lead his people, as oil companies threaten to take more land from the Cofán, or, at least by their current practices, contaminate that which they do not take.
The film’s other focus is David Poritz, an American who was enlightened to the region’s plight at very young age, and who has made it his mission to help those in Ecuador and beyond. In this case, David is pursuing the creation of a certification system for oil companies that would create a standard for safe environmental and social practices. Over the course of their young lives (which in Hugo’s case involves getting married and starting a family while continuing to pursue his education), Hugo and David routinely cross paths as they both try to find the best solutions for all involved.
If you’re a fan of documentaries with narrative arcs, where the end of the films give a feeling of resolution, then you might find yourself dissatisfied with this one. Not because it is a bad film, but because this is a film that looks in on the lives of David and Hugo specifically, while also shining a light on the indigenous communities in Ecuador, to showcase problems and solutions that are ongoing. There’s no singular event that will have a traditional beginning, middle and end in the film, though the creation of the Equitable Origin certification system comes close; it’s all a work in progress, and the patience the audience has for this story will vary depending on one’s sensibilities.
Thus it is best to look at this film as educational, utilizing the human touch of Hugo and David’s unique life stories. It’s not quite a call to arms, but it is informative, and what you do what that information is up to you. Clearly the silent genocide by corporations or governments pushing out communities in land grabs for resources is as unsustainable a system as the resources themselves are, and the film offers the unique perspective of those who are coming up with solutions that will work to improve the system until it can change, as opposed to expecting a revolution to explode and fix things overnight. Hugo and David’s ideas require patience, but they also might wind up being far more beneficial down the road than anything that has been tried prior. Then again, those intentions could be corrupted, though only time will tell.
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