In April 2008, Montana-born film producer Tammi Sims was imprisoned by the Nigerian military. Sweet Crude, the documentary she produced with director Sandy Cioffi, depicts the human and environmental consequences of oil extraction in Niger Delta. And their harrowing experience, along with the film's story, gets to the heart of why oil politics is such a dangerous deal.
The film crew's initial trip sounds so innocuous: They went to document the building of a library in a remote Nigerian village. The crew, however, encounters young, college-educated men from an insurgency group called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The film shows how MEND is demonized by the American press as terrorists, but Cioffi and Sims tell a different story about local people who have a very strong stake in the region's politics. In the film, Cioffi provides an on-camera interview with an unmasked MEND spokesman who articulately describing the struggle. Cioffi brings up numerous questions including: What happens if, as predicted, the U.S. gets 25 percent of its oil from the Niger Delta by 2015? The film actually looks at the impact on the people and a place where oil is worth killing for.
It's a volatile topic, hence the imprisonment. Sims, originally from Joplin, Mont., Cioffi and their Nigerian colleague Joel Bisina made news and were, finally, released with the help of Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus and Gov. Schweitzer. But the story in Nigeria continues.
Sweet Crude screens during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival at the Wilma Theatre Sat., Feb. 20, at 10 AM.