There’s an old saying that you don’t want to see how sausage gets made. Well, if director Rachel Boynton is to be believed, you don’t want to see how oil gets drilled either, at least in certain developing countries.
With her sobering documentary Big Men, Boynton followed the discovery of the first major oil find in Ghana, an event that attracted the attention of Dallas-based Kosmos Energy. The company — especially CEO Jim Musselman and Ghanaian middle man George Owusu — made a deal with the Ghanian government to help exploit the resource, but then an election brings in new politicians who don’t want to honor the original agreement while the great recession sends oil prices plummeting. Everyone involved is left fighting over a shrinking pie.
She contrasts this with what is a cautionary tale from nearby Nigeria, a country long known for its oil riches as well as kleptocracy and corruption. Friends have turned against each other, the environment has been poisoned, poverty remains endemic, and masked saboteurs routinely blow up pipelines. Sometimes they do it because they say the average Nigerian sees no benefit from oil production. Others do it in the hope of getting contract work for the repairs. This, Boynton hints, is Ghana’s future.
While the subject matter might seem dry, Boynton keeps things interesting through the juxtaposition of the various personalities — Musselman’s wildcatter sensibilities, Owusu’s zeal for upward mobility and recognition — against the backdrop of financial-TV headlines. It all makes for a fascinating and discomfiting story.
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