Seattle-based filmmaker Sandy Cioffi's documentary Sweet Crude about the Niger Delta of Nigeria will screen at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. Show times are June 3, 7:00 pm at the Egyptian Theater, Seattle; June 7, 1:30 pm at the Kirkland Performance Center; and June 13, 1:30 pm at the Egyptian.
The show will be followed by a Q&A with Cioffi, who has made four trips to the region and is considered one of the most knowledgeable sources outside Nigeria on the crisis there. Most of the production and post-production crew are also based in Seattle and will be in attendance.
The film's timeliness increased exponentially when the Nigerian military began bombing and burning civilian villages May 15 in an offensive they say is targeting militants. Much of Sweet Crude was filmed in one of these villages, Oporoza, where many buildings and homes were razed by the military. Senators Russ Feingold and John Kerry issued statements about the crisis on May 22. A letter signed by 15 concerned organizations, including Sweet Crude, was sent to the International Criminal Court May 19.
The SIFF screenings coincide with a landmark court case begun this week in New York – a suit against Shell Oil for complicity in the 1998 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmental activists in the Niger Delta.
"We made Sweet Crude to show the complexity of this place and the humanity of people typically represented to the world in highly sensationalized media coverage," says Cioffi. "The situation is becoming more critical every day. This is a movie about issues unfolding as we speak; we hope it will communicate the urgency and inspire action. There's an opportunity in this moment for our government and the international community to pay attention and press for political solutions that could avert war."
On her fourth and last trip in April 2008, Cioffi, three members of her film crew and their Nigerian colleague who is featured in the film were detained by the Nigerian government in an attempt to suppress the story and held in military prison for a week. Their footage was confiscated. An international effort, including a letter signed by 14 U.S. lawmakers spearheaded by Senator Maria Cantwell, was mounted to secure their release.
Despite this setback, Cioffi went on to finish the film, which premiered in early April 2009 at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC to a standing ovation. A review from the New Raleigh includes this: "One film to really seek out is Sweet Crude, which covers the struggle by indigenous peoples in Nigeria's Niger Delta region... Cioffi skillfully portrays a people with their backs against the wall… Cioffi's film succeeds, not only because she humanizes the members of these oft-maligned resistance groups, but because she makes their approach seem like the only logical and available option. Sweet Crude was, hands down, the most fresh and interesting documentary I saw at Full Frame…"
Sweet Crude tells the largely unknown story behind today's increasingly urgent headlines from a volatile region where people are desperate and unrest is growing. Fifty years of crude oil extraction has enriched the oil companies and Nigerian government, but left the residents impoverished in a decimated environment. After decades of nonviolent protest and unfulfilled promises, a growing militancy is kidnapping oil workers and sabotaging pipelines in an effort to be heard. Set against a stunning backdrop of Niger Delta footage, the film gives voice to the region's complicated mix of stakeholders and invites the audience to learn the deeper story.
Currently more than 10 percent of U.S. oil comes from the Niger Delta, expected to grow to 25 percent by 2015. Ongoing destabilization of the region has cut its total oil exports by a quarter.
To learn more about Sweet Crude, visit www.sweetcrudemovie.com
To learn more about the current military attacks, visit www.sweetcrudemovie.com/attacks