Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sweet Crude / SIFF

Photo by Kendra E. Thornbury

My friend Sandy Cioffi recently completed a documentary about the effects of oil in the Niger Delta.  Making this movie has been a long and emotional process that has put both herself and the crew into situations of great peril.  But as she has said before, it's nothing compared to the daily struggles of the people who live there.  Sweet Crude has been making the film festival rounds and it's so exciting that it has landed here for the Seattle International Film Festival. 

In the opening sequence of Sweet Crude, director Sandy Cioffi explains that this wasn't the film she started out to make. Due to the complexity of the situation, the direction of the movie changed its course during production. What remained constant was the desire to make the world pay attention to the Niger Delta before it was too late. 

Flash back to 3 1/2 years ago when indie film maker Cioffi went to the Niger Delta to document the building of a library, a symbol of hope to be shared by previously warring tribes. During the opening ceremony, a peaceful protest was led by residents of the area. Sandy knew she had to their story or else no one else would and the documentary Sweet Crude was born.

Photo by Kendra E. Thornbury

"In a small corner of the most populous country in Africa, billions of dollars of crude oil flow under the feet of a desperate people. Immense wealth and abject poverty stand in stark contrast. The environment is decimated. The issues are complex, the answers elusive.The documentary film Sweet Crude tells the story of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. The region is seething and the global stakes are high. But in this moment, there’s an opportunity to find solutions."

During the Q&A following the movie, an audience member asked the question about what the people in the room could do to help affect change.  Sandy replied that not to be flip, but we need to change how we look at everything. The best way to do that is through education and involvement. The statistics are shocking and compelling.

Photo by Kendra E. Thornbury

Verite Coffee helped fund Sweet Crude and it's a passionate subject for owner Jody Hall. When I asked her how she got involved with the documentary, she explained that, "Every day, folks ask me and my baristas about our coffee. Is it organic?  Is it fair trade?  Are the farmers being paid properly? I'm proud to answer “YES, YES, YES!". We work with Stumptown, and they pay a fair price for coffee, buy direct, and choose social responsibility over profits (as do many of this fine city’s roasters).  Coffee is the #2 traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. And like oil, it’s highly exploited. It’s nice to work with a roaster who ensures that the farmers are paid the proper price to sustain their families.  But when it comes to oil, we don’t ask these questions, and I think we should.  I think that as a small business owner, you create and are a part of a community and you can use your super-powers to do good, create awareness and make this city/community/planet a better place."

Sweet Crude has two more screenings during SIFF.  The night I went, the theater was completely packed, so you should purchase your tickets early. 
Sunday, June 7 at 1:30 (Kirkland Performance Center) tix
Saturday, June 13 at 1:30 (Egyptian Theater) tix
After the June 13th screening, there will be a discussion at the new Verite location (1111 Pike).

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