Saturday, January 12, 2013

Andrew Berends' Nigeria doc DELTA BOYS gets a Netflix, Hulu and SnagFilms debut


Is there any place in the world drilled by Big Oil that doesn't damage the surroun-ding environment, together with the human and animal life that dwell there? To documentaries such as FuelCrude and others that indict the oil companies for their efforts in various parts of the world, we can now add DELTA BOYS, an anti-ode to the oil drawn from Nigeria -- the lode of which constitutes a large portion of what we here in the USA consume. It would be one thing if the citi-zens of these countries from which oil is taken were living some sort of decent life. Instead they are poor, with little access to health, education, and welfare facilities, while the environment in which they must live grows ever more polluted. Oh, yes: and the oil companies, and the governments of these countries that collude with those oil companies, grow ever richer.

While making Delta Boys in Nigeria, filmmaker Andrew Berends was arrested, detained for ten days, and expelled from the country by the Nigerian government in a bid to suppress media coverage of the Niger Delta conflict. Up to this time, it would seem, that suppression was evidently handled pretty well, as this was yet another area of the world that Big Oil despoils and manages to keep under wraps. Well, not anymore. Mr Berends deserves a lot of credit for going to Nigeria and and getting up close and personal with at least two different anti-oil/anti-government insurgent groups -- one that seems to have the country's good as its goal, the other, maybe not.

At just under one hour's running time, Berends' film seems a bit like an opening salvo. I would have rather seen a further fleshed-out version that offered more history of the region and the "work" of the oil companies, with specifics on how, why, when and where these firms have polluted, along with the results. The movie could easily, I think, have been expanded to a full-length running time, but most likely, since Berends has been expelled from the county, he's not going to easily get back in to continue his filming. Which, by the way, is quite good (the fellow quadruples as producer, director, cinematographer and co-editor of Delta Boys). The filmmaker spends most of his time in the camp of the "human rights activist" (as I believe he calls himself) Tom Ateke. (I might use the term "insur-gent," while the Nigerian government no doubt prefers "terrorist.")

As he enter the camp, the filmmaker is given a kind of verbal "test" (which he evidently passes with flying colors), along with the direc-tive to "Say only what you see. Don't add or subtract." Berends pretty much does just that, so what we see ranges from the lovely to the odd, fascinating and beautiful (one shot of birds and their nests is extraordinary). He concentrates most on some of the young men who have joined the camp -- fellows like Chima (on poster, top, and in photo at bottom), formerly in prison who has not seen his family for several years.

Other militant camps -- the Okoloma Ikpangi, for one -- may be concerned less with helping the poor, as some villagers tells us, than with feeding their own stomachs. Religion plays a big part of daily life here, and at one point when government troops come in to raid the camps, a priest prays to god to "make peace in Jesus' name." (It seemed to me that some of the men we see are Muslim, but I guess Christianity has also made inroads here.)

Certain questions go unanswered: If it was easy enough for Berends to find the insurgents' camps, why is the government so slow in this? Eventually, a meeting takes place between representatives of several militant groups and the government, and the outcome is... pretty much expected, I think. The result may help the leaders all around the table -- and the oil companies, of course -- while leaving the people as bereft as usual.

There appears to be a kind of eyes-wide-shut, or maybe a don't ask/don't tell policy throughout Nigeria -- in the government, the camps, the families, everywhere in fact, except probably the oil companies -- as to what is going on. (Does Chima's family, for instance, really not have a clue as to where he has been of late?)  If the film needs fleshing out and sorting out, it still proves quite worth seeing for anyone interested in the story of yet another oil-rich land being exploited while its people remain in poverty.

In addition to its debut this coming Tuesday, January 15, via Netflix (streaming only), Hulu and SnagFilms, Delta Boys is currently available for digital download to rent or own at the Sundance site, on iTunes, Vudu and Amazon.

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