The Filmmaker

Under Rich Earth was produced and directed by Toronto based filmmaker Malcolm Rogge


When I began working on Under Rich Earth (formely called ‘The Prospect’) in June 2006, I was driven by the idea that a film–like a book or a work of art–can be an important catalyst for debate around complex social issues.

The story behind this film spans twelve years: I traveled to Ecuador for the first time in 1996 to work on my Master’s thesis project. My thesis supervisor, Dr. Liisa North—now a close friend and mentor—had introduced me to a group of extraordinary Ecuadorian women who had founded Acción Ecológica (Ecological Action). I worked with Acción Ecológica’s “Amazon Oil” team and helped to deliver workshops in the Ecuadorian Amazon on the social and environmental impact of oil development. For three months, we traveled into the Ecuadorian Amazon region on pick-up trucks, small planes, and canoes. Our job was to bring information to remote villages where people were eager to learn about the environmental impact of oil development and their legal rights.

Equipo de Monitoreo Environmental Monitoring Network 1998 (La Red Monitoreo), Lago Agrio, Ecuador. Angel Shingre (far right, standing), an outspoken critic of the environmental damage caused by oil development, was assassinated a year later in Coca. Photo: Malcolm Rogge

It was a life-changing experience, not only because of the remarkable people we met in these villages, but also because of the profound natural beauty of the environment in which they lived. The peoples’ lives were about to be altered dramatically by powerful global forces; but, they were determined to take a proactive role in shaping the destiny of their communities. The reaction to proposed oil development was often ambivalent: some communities hoped for that oil drilling would bring jobs and economic opportunities; while others were completely opposed to drilling and mounted vigourous protests. Nothing was black and white.

I returned to Ecuador a year and a half later to work with Paulina Garzon at her nascent organization, the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales). We organized and delivered workshops in partnership with other organizations in the oil producing region. At the time, I documented my experiences using a 35mm stills camera and began to think that one day, I would make a film in Ecuador about social justice, extractive industries and transnational corporations.

Taisha - Taller Sobre los Impactos Socio-Ambientales del Desarollo Petrolero

Luis Yanza, winner of the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize leads a workshop in the community of Taisha, Ecuador in 1998. Photo: Malcolm Rogge

One of the Ecuadorians I worked with was Luis Yanza, the Founder and Director of the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía (Amazon Defence Front). Luis recently won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Upon winning the prize, Yanza was immediately subjected to personal attacks from Chevron Oil–his long-time adversary.

The opportunity to make this film came many years later—almost ten years after my first trip to Ecuador. Professor Liisa North returned from teaching in Ecuador and told me a gripping story about farmers in the remote Intag valley of Ecuador who had joined together to resist what they considered to be the ‘invasion’ of their land by Canadian prospectors. After two months of research, I traveled to the Intag valley to begin shooting. This would be the first of three separate journeys to Ecuador from Canada that spanned over a year and a half. As it turned out, a few of my Ecuadorian friends and colleagues from my earlier work in the oil region had become involved in the mining debate. They introduced me to key people, local leaders and farmers who eventually became the subjects of the documentary, now called Under Rich Earth.

Under Rich Earth is dedicated to “Los Juninseños”–a term of endearment used to describe the many humble, witty and courageous people of the tiny village of Junin, Ecuador.

- Malcolm Rogge

Some articles previously published by Malcolm Rogge related to the making of Under Rich Earth:

Malcolm J. Rogge, Towards Transnational Corporate Accountability in the Global Economy: Challenging the Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens in In Re: Union Carbide, Alfaro, Sequihua, and Aguinda, 36 Tex. Int’l L.J. 299, 302 (2001)

Download PDF and also available online here.

Malcolm J. Rogge, Ecuador’s Oil Region: Developing Community Legal Resources in a National Security Zone, Third World Legal Studies, 1996-1997, Valparaiso University School of Law. Cited as: 1996 TWLS 233 1996-1997

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Rogge, Malcolm, How to Make Them Hear: Challenging International Oil Interests in Ecuador’s Amazon Region, Refuge: Canada’s periodical on refugees, Vol 16, No 3 (1997)

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Malcolm James Rogge, Human Rights, Human Development and The Right to a Healthy Environment: An Analytical Framework, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, Volume XXII, No. 1, 2001

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