Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Epic of Black Gold


This film is a four part series from French National Television. The Epic of Black Gold is directed by Jean-Pierre Beauerenaut and Yves Billon, and runs at 208 min, digital video. The production company is Alliance-Atlantis along with Historical Planet. It was shown at the Washington DC International Film Festival in unused AMC theaters on Wisconsin Ave. on April 21. Website is here.

The documentary traces the history of the oil business back to the late 19th Century with John D. Rockefeller, who eliminated competition until the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The early oil boom at Spindletop is documented, and the United States is unique in the libertarian concept that underground mineral rights belong to the land owner rather than to the state. The discovery of oil in the Middle East is documented.

The film does a good job of summarizing the oil shocks. There is Oil Crisis I, the Arab Oil Embargo following the Yom Kippur War that starte on Oct. 6, 1973 (a day that I remember well, coming back to New York from a camping trip in NW New Jersey). Oil Crisis II came about because of strikes in Iran after the Shah was driven out, but preceded the hostage crisis. The counter crisis occurred in the 1980s as the OPEC members had a price war, leading to the real estate recession in Texas.

The film makes a great point that we are nearing the "glass half empty" moment on oil supply soon, as oil production will peak. The economic growth of the last century was driven by oil, and the world is not ready to replace it yet.

The film has many live clips from the early 20th Century, as well as on location video of modern Saudi Arabia.

I would expect to see this film offered on cable in the US film. It is in English, with many interviews in French with English subtitles.

There is another shorter film "A Crude Awakening", directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack, offered from Netflix, and it provides a particularly grim view of future decline in oil production. Both of these films are also discussed here.

Do not confuse with the film Black Gold, about the international coffee business, reviewed here.

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