An animated cartoon featuring rough drawn, under-detailed Playmobil-like characters driving away from their idyllic suburban homes and into a gas station to fill up their tanks for the morning commute to work sets the droll, idiosyncratic tone for the pointed social commentary, yet tongue-in-cheek humor of filmmakers Martin Marecek and Martin Skalsky charming, offbeat, witty, and incisive documentary, Source, as the long cartoon gas pump line ultimately connects to a real-life shot of an oil pump at a derelict, oil soaked open field in Baku, Azerbaijan, the site of the country’s first oil well. Hailed as both the future and salvation of the country, the oil industry dominates much of the country’s economy as well as its consciousness, even if the windfall of profits rarely, if ever, trickle down to the everyday workers who labor in unsafe conditions at the poorly maintained oil fields, nor to the nearby villagers who live in an environment of elevated radiation levels, polluted air, toxic fields, and contaminated waters. Targeted by international conglomerates for supply and development (most notably, BP), the funding and profits often end up exclusively in the hands of corrupt politicians embedded at all levels of government. A human rights activist acerbically comments on the extent of the graft through the U.S. government’s inequitable treatment of the two contemporary, fraud-laden elections from the former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan and Georgia, where the U.S. quickly validated the election of Ilham Aliyev (son of the former president Heidar Aliev), even as it joined the oppositional chorus citing massive voting fraud in the election of Eduard Shevardnadze – the chance for democracy in action stifled in Azerbaijan by the presence of oil and the need for predictable – if endemically corrupt – political stability. Composed of a series of irreverently edited interviews featuring an eclectic cast of characters – impassioned human rights activists, bumbling oil company spokesmen (in particular, the running gag of a bemused oil executive whose interview keeps getting interrupted by telephone calls on a direct government line that never seem to go through), talking head politicians, exploited workers, dispossessed landowners whose property deeds have been confiscated and modified by the government to accommodate the pipeline construction (including a displaced village elder and self-described poet whose farmland has been bisected by a pipeline that now runs through the center of his field), abandoned women who have been set up in primitive condition camps while their husbands leave to work in faraway old fields, and a souvenir shop sales clerk who shows off their most popular tourist tchotchkes (where politically themed matryoshka dolls of the Aliev “dynasty” sell alongside the Osama Bin Laden terrorist nesting dolls) – and laced with incisive black humor (in particular, a hilarious cartoon re-enactment of the filmmakers’ flight from local authorities and hiding of the incriminating videotape up a tree before being arrested and subsequently released through diplomatic intervention), the film is an infectiously engaging, yet astute and relevant exposition into the exploitive politics of resource economy.
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