Documentary Oil & Water Tells Cofan Story

A documentary released in 2014 helped to spread the word about the Cofan efforts to protect its land and its very existence. Oil & Water is the true story of two boys coming of age as they each confront one of the world’s worst toxic disasters. Shot over the span of six years, the film is an independent documentary produced and directed by Laurel Spellman Smith and Francine Strickwerda of Stir It Up Productions, a Seattle-based documentary company. The film was funded by Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation and made for broadcast on PBS. The film features Cofan Hugo Lucitante, 27, who was born and raised in Zabalo, EC. But at 10 years old, was selected by his parents and tribal leaders to begin a Western education in the United States with American graduate student, Miranda Detore, as his legal guardian. The hope was that he would return to the Ecuadorian Amazon to provide leadership the Cofan desperately need.

Hugo Lucitante, left, and David Poritz address attendees at a Brown University screening of Oil & Water
Hugo Lucitante, left, and David Poritz address attendees at a Brown University screening of Oil & Water

Oil & Water also tells the story of David Poritz, who was just a sixth-grader when he learned of the oil disaster in Hugo’s homeland. With the blessing of his mother, David started a humanitarian project that led him away from his home in Amherst, Massachusetts to spend much of his youth in the Amazon. The two teenagers meet by chance during a shared canoe ride, and then again, when David travels with Hugo to tour the damage caused by the 18 billion gallons of oil waste that was dumped on Hugo’s ancestral lands. The film follows the boys back to the U.S. as their lives and the situation in Ecuador get more complicated.

During the multi-year filming, the viewer sees Hugo struggle with the demands of learning to be a Cofan tribal leader, becoming a husband to his wife, Sadie, and father to their daughter Asha, while Hugo and Sadie both attempt to finance their college educations on minimum-wage jobs.

The film premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in June 2014 and was screened dozens of times around the country and even at the Rio De Janerio International Film Festival in October. The Cofan Survival Fund Board recognized the opportunity the documentary created to engage individuals interested in rainforest preservation and the rights of indigenous people and sponsored screenings in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.

At a screening at Evergreen State University, Randy Borman said, “It’s not about a poor indigenous group out in the middle of the jungle that needs to preserve their culture, although that is a component,” Borman said. “It is about the survival of the globe and I don’t know how to get that across to people effectively. We need that million acres of rainforest as a human race to be able to survive climate change. We need many millions of acres, not just that one.”

Oil & Water Co-Director Lauren Spellmen Smith (second from Left) with with Joshua Borman, Micah McCarty, Randy Borman and Tom Waterer
Oil & Water Co-Director Lauren Spellmen Smith (second from Left) with with Joshua Borman, Micah McCarty, Randy Borman and Tom Waterer

Already shown on public television’s Global Voices channel on September 22, 2014, the film will broadcast in the Seattle-area in January 2015 on KCTS9. The Cofan Survival Fund Board has purchased the rights to screen the film and invites anyone interested in organizing a screening to the Cofan Survival Fund Board.