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Oil spills into lawsuit over “Crude.”

Oil spills into lawsuit over “Crude.” (photo)

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Here’s the context for today: oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico with no apparent end in sight. One solution being tried out involves lowering a gigantic dome onto the gushing leak (shades of “The Simpsons Movie”), which BP chief executive Tony Hayward isn’t overly optimistic about. “It’s only one of the battle fronts,” he said. “This is like the Normandy landing. We know we are going to win. We just don’t know how quickly.”

Clearly, this would be the best possible time for another oil company to sue someone getting in their face, and sure enough Chevron has obtained a subpoena for outtakes from “Crude,” Joe Berlinger’s 2009 documentary about toxic oil and waste contamination in the Amazon. Specifically, they now have the right — pending appeal, natch — to run through all 600 hours of raw footage for evidence of misconduct by lawyers for the indigenous people. Charges of toxic damage? Not important. Procedural stuff? All important.

Admittedly, Berlinger is sometimes a difficult guy to root for. As he told last year, he had a falling out with his co-director and longtime partner on docs like “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and “Paradise Lost” (though the two are still friends) and of course, outside of the documentary world, he bears some responsibility for the infamous “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” even if the studio recut it. In the same interview, he discussed why he was initially averse to entering into “Crude.”

“I am not an agitprop filmmaker,” Berlinger told the lawyer who approached him. “Most of my other films have social issues in them one way or another, but my style is to let the viewer make up his or her own mind, and not bang a single-minded message over your head — which is more the approach of the human rights kind of filmmaker.” But when he got down there, he was “horrified” by what he saw. “After leaving these people, this pollution,” he said, “and talking to mothers with a look of horror in their eyes at the knowledge that they’re giving their children poisoned water, but have no choice… I knew I had to point a camera and try to help these people. Otherwise, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

05072010_bananas.jpgThere’s something unnerving about the spectacle of a major corporation unleashing heavy-duty litigation and invoking specious legal concerns to crush a movie whose worldwide theatrical gross was under $200,000. Similarly, last year Dole sued the film “Bananas!*” for having the temerity to assert their practices in Nicaragua weren’t completely savory. In both cases, the number of people who see these movies and get outraged will be a minuscule dent against a huge corporate interest; nonetheless, the companies thought it was worth their time to preemptively shut them down. (Still, “Bananas*!” will be released later this year by Oscilloscope.)

Given the large number of American movies that proceed from the starting point that any monolithic corporation is unspeakably evil and not to be trusted, this is kind of surprising. After a screening of “Michael Clayton,” I overheard a man say “This kind of shit happens every day and we don’t even know about it.” Maybe it’s that hostile attitude that’s making corporations a little punchier about covering their legal options. With the image of corporate America under assault, making activist documentaries may have suddenly become a much more dangerous business.

[Photos: “Crude,” First Run Features, 2009; “Bananas!*,” Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2010.]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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