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The story of attorney Steven Donziger’s David vs. Goliath battle against big-oil giant Chevron is being developed into not one, but two feature films.
Bill Guttentag, who won an Oscar for docs You Don’t Have to Die and Twin Towers, has signed on to helm Rumble in the Jungle about Donziger, who spent more than two decades on the legal case that resulted in one of the largest environmental settlements in history.
The legal case, led by Donziger, was a suit filed by 30,000 residents of Ecuador, that stated that Texaco (which was purchased by Chevron in 2001) left behind massive damage to the land from the Lago Agrio oid field. Activists describe it as the “Amazonian Chernobyl,” with plaintiffs stating damages that include poisoned drinking water, uninhabitable property, birth defects and pools of toxic material.
In 2011, the Chevron Corporation was asked to pay $18.1 billion by a court in Ecuador, but the award was later reduced to $9.5 billion by the Ecuador Supreme Court.
Donziger was the subject of Joe Berlinger’s 2009 documentary Crude, which also focused on the ongoing class action lawsuit. However, the footage was subpoenaed by Chevron, which claimed that Donziger had used “corrupt means,” including coercion and bribery, to obtain the 2011 verdict. A U.S. judge ruled in favor of Chevron in 2014, which blocked any efforts by the plaintiffs to collect money from Chevron. Danziger and his co-defendents filed appeals against the ruling in August 2016, but the Second Circuit affirmed the original opinion.
Rumble in the Jungle is not the only film being made about the Chevron case in Ecuador. Brad Pitt’s production banner Plan B acquired the rights to the book Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett. The 2015 book was sharply criticized by Donziger, and the film does not have the support or life rights of any of the subjects.
In contrast, Donziger will serve as an executive producer on Rumble in the Jungle and Ecuadorian community leaders Carlos Guaman, Alejandro Soto, Luis Yanza and Ermel Chavez will help to develop the project on behalf of the Amazon Defense Coalition and affected communities, as will Karen Hinton, a longtime consultant to the communities.
Attorneys Aaron Page and Chris Lehane will executive produce alongside Donziger, as will David Lee and Yanza. Anonymous Content also is producing. WME Global is repping the film’s worldwide rights.
Guttentag most recently directed the 2015 film Only the Dead, the documentary about a journalist’s experience in Iraq during the 2003 war. On the feature side, he wrote and directed the 2012 film Knife Fight, starring Rob Lowe. He’s repped by WME and Anonymous Content.
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