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"Discloses the catastrophic consequences of a man-made natural disaster." - Modern Times Review

"Shot with poetic grandeur and packed with stirring political heft." - POV Magazine

  • Hot Docs
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  • Movies that Matter  |  The Hague, Netherlands  |  *Dian Maharani -- winner of Article 30 Human Rights Award*

This investigation of one of the largest environmental disasters in recent history traces its origins in the nexus of big business and politics in Indonesia and explores its many ramifications.

In Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia, the Lapindo Brantas Company hit a mud pocket while drilling for natural gas in May 2006, setting off the world’s largest mud volcano that has been erupting continuously ever since.  Between 3 and 6 million cubic feet of mud has been spewed daily.  In a region known for its seismic activity, the boiling mudflow quickly consumed sixteen villages and displaced around 40,000 people.
Lapindo is one of the many companies controlled by tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, Indonesia’s richest man at the time of the disaster and one of the most powerful players in the Golkar Party, the ruling party of Suharto’s 31-year anti-communist dictatorship (1967-1998).  A government investigation determined the disaster was the result of an earthquake 160 miles away.  But amidst the ongoing public outcry, Lapindo promised to compensate the victims.  Other subsequent investigations by international scientists have determined with 99% confidence that the cause of the disaster was drilling.  Although Lapindo began to make some payments, few of the victims could actually prove their claims with the required documentation, as almost all of the evidence had been buried by the mud.  Most received nothing.  Then, as the Great Financial Crisis hit in 2008, all the payments slowed.  In 2009, Bakrie was elected Chairman of the Golkar Party. 

Meanwhile, the mud continued to flow, overtaking levees built to contain it and overwhelming the Porong River and its ecosystem.  Destruction of the local economy began to partially be replaced by disaster tourism, and victims were forced to resort to becoming tour guides of a present-day Pompeii, or selling souvenirs recovered from the mud.  With their parents struggling to survive, some of the younger generation began to radicalize in resistance to the injustices.  Inspired by her mother's fight, Dian, who was six years old at the time of the disaster, emerges into an activist voice of the movement.  Despite several years without much progress, they do not relent in their protests.

Leading up to the 2014 presidential election, they begin to place their hopes of restitution on Joko Widodo, a rising star from outside the patronage-driven core of Indonesian politics, who while on the campaign trail promises them full compensation.  His opponent, Prabowo Subianto, a former military general under Suharto and backed in coalition by Bakrie's Golkar Party, begins to seem like a last gasp of the old guard.  Widodo goes on to prevail, not without some ensuing disillusionment, but the protestors maintain their pressure and the government lends Lapindo $45.5 million to finance the victims' outstanding compensation within the year.

Grit captures the magnitude of this man-made environmental disaster in its many dimensions, and through this example illuminates how deep the ever-escalating global environmental crisis runs in the system, and how difficult it will be to resolve.

80 Minutes | Indonesian with English subtitles.
Directed by: Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander


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