15 June 2018

Making a killing: Big Men is now on Showmax

With crude oil arguably the world’s most important commodity, greed and corruption is guaranteed to be a problem. Independent US filmmaker Rachel Boynton travelled to Ghana and Nigeria in 2007 to investigate the ins-and-out of the countries’ oil industries for her doccie Big Men (2013, now available on Showmax). And it makes for informative but scary viewing.

Big Men opens with two quotes from Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman that reference how power-hungry CEOs run their corporations on greed while the everyday man and workers live in poverty. “Let’s make something clear: this isn’t a film about Ghana or Nigeria, but rather about their crooked systems,” says Rachel. Big Men’s central narrative follows US billionaires who own oil company Kosmos Energy and run the first Ghanaian oil field.

The film goes deep by investigating how money is divided among these private companies, national governments and citizens who hardly get a profit from their resources,” adds the filmmaker. Rachel takes viewers on boats, planes, cars and envoys, visiting the offices and homes of wealthy businessmen who head the oil industries and are sticking their fingers into the “money pie”.

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Money talks

Despite the rocks she was digging under, fear was the last thing on Rachel’s mind. She knocked on every door and although she was continuously rejected, she was persistent and sent actor Brad Pitt an email asking him to co-produce the documentary. “I needed a name that would let people think, ‘Wow this project is a great idea’. He read it, liked it and came onboard and I was ecstatic,” says Rachel.

“Big Men is a story about people and the motivations that are driving them: a question about Ghana and self-interest is the same thing that’s driving the human story, the individual story in the movie. The individuals are motivated and torn apart by self-interest in the same way that these countries are. So it works on this large level and also on a smaller level.”

Rachel doesn’t just meet and interview businessmen in the oil industry. She sits down with Nigerian militants, politicians and activists, as well as everyday citizens who’re affected by the oil industry and its corruption, whether they realise it or not. Nigerian King Bini Pere III Temo hints that while oil is a means to bring wealth to his country, the majority of Nigeria’s multi-billion dollar oil turnover goes to the government instead of the people. This has resulted in armed militia camping in swamps nearby the oil fields and taking hostages to extort millions from the oil companies. They’re not above murder if they don’t get their way and arson isn’t out of the question either.

Rachel reveals to theblot.com, “There’s a moment in the film where young men set their neighbourhoods on fire. I asked them why they were destroying their environment and one of the guys said, ‘Well, we might be shooting ourselves in the foot but we have no jobs and have no opportunities and somebody offered to pay us to do this, so we do what we have to’.”

Head above water

Rachel reveals that her end-product doccie had a bigger effect on her than she could’ve imagined. “I spent time in towns with gas lamps. It was crazy! It really changes you to see people living with nothing and struggling to survive,” explains the filmmaker. And Big Men did what was intended: it exposed the expected corruption, greed and down-right ugly side of the oil industries. It also got the thumbs up from Brad Pitt’s bestie George Clooney, who bought rights to the doccie on Brad’s advice and pre-release screenings.

Exposé documentaries are necessary in a world where there are trillions at stake and greed is an overpowering need. Rachel adds that “as a filmmaker, you are like a tornado chaser, trying to go to a place where you think that there might be conflict. Once you get a story that works and highlights issues that affect the world, you realise that the sleepless nights were all worth it!”

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