Review: ‘Crude Impact’

Dennis Harvey, Film Critic | March 26, 2007

That road trip you were planning for 2057 might look a tad less likely after viewing “Crude Impact,” which sees disaster looming all too soon in the growing global demand for a shrinking oil supply — especially in the U.S., where consumption and native supply levels are most out of whack. James Jandak Wood’s docu is playing scattered theatrical dates, but will probably prove most effective as a spur for education and activism on DVD.

Pic links the enormous world population growth in recent decades to the seemingly endless use and supply of oil, which is involved one way or another in “nearly every product we consume,” particularly food production. President Bush the First famously said this “American way of life is non-negotiable,” but Mother Nature may nullify the contract.

One striking graphic illustrates that while there’s a car for every 1.7 Americans, there’s one for every 117 Chinese. This extravagant use of energy was cemented in the 1950s, when the U.S. was indeed the world’s largest producer of petroleum. Shell geologist M. King Hubbert’s warning then that production would peak in the early ’70s and decline steadily thereafter was laughed off as hysterical doom-saying.

But in fact, Hubbert was on the money. While little has changed in terms of U.S. energy conservation or wasteful usage, the vast majority of oil is now imported from Third World countries. Rather than elevating their citizens’ general well-being, these nations too often enrich a ruling elite while the majority endure poverty, starvation, disease and political oppression. A military massacre protecting Shell Oil interests from protestors in Nigeria and environmental devastation wrought by Texaco in Ecuador are among examples cited.

First World nations are now starting to look seriously at climate change. But such attempts at rollback are not welcome by such rapidly expanding nations as China and India, which have arrived at their own industrial booms.

Other topics touched on in this chapter-organized feature include the virtual mainstream media blackout on discussion of long-term oil issues and the prospects of widespread species extinction due to pollution and global warming.

Various scientists, analysts, politicos and others add talking-head commentary in a smooth package that makes good use of archival materials, especially some campy old educational cartoons that add fleeting levity to a grim message.

A Porchlight Entertainment release of a Vista Clara Films production. Produced by James Jandak Wood. Executive producer, Steve Michelson. Co-producers, Jennifer Jandak Wood, Joanne Shen. Directed by James Jandak Wood.

Camera (color, DV), Sharon Anderson; editors, Pamela Spitzer, Anderon, Wood; motion graphics, Yussef Cole; sound, Spitzer. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, March 24, 2007. Running time: 98 MIN.

Tundi Agardy, Guy Caruso, Cindy Cohn, Kenneth Deffeyes, Steve Donziger, Emeka Duruigbo, Michael Economides, Christopher Flavin, Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann, Richard Heinberg, Santiago Kawarim, Terry Lynne Karl, Michael Klare, Kavita Ramdas, William Rees, Matthew Simmons, Lynne Twist. Narrator: Natalia Bortolotti.