Andrew Berends on Why He Made His Documentary Delta Boys

Andrew Berends is a documentary filmmaker using Kickstarter to fund his project Delta Boys, a recipient of the 2008 Sundance Institute Documentary Film Grant. Click here to join the final push to complete production on this documentary.

“Any time you wake up, it’s your morning. We are here waiting for our freedom. I hope that now is the bitter time, and very soon all of us will enter to the joy side.” That’s what one young militant named Chima told me when I was living in Ateke Tom’s rebel camp in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. But the inhabitants of the Niger Delta are still waiting. They live in poverty while precious oil is pumped from beneath their feet, and the rivers on which they subsist are polluted by over three hundred oil spills every year!

My film Delta Boys explores the untold stories of the Niger Delta militancy – rebels who band together in the face of corrupt government oppression in this oil-rich region of Nigeria – following the lives of two militants: Ateke Tom, the "Godfather" of the Niger Delta Vigilante Force, and Chima, a 21-year-old who left home to join the fight. The film also documents life in a tiny fishing village caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Mama, a 22-year-old, struggles to give birth to her first child with no access to modern medical care, while raids are launched from a militant camp across the river.

The militants have called for a greater distribution of wealth and jobs. When their requests have been ignored, they've sabotaged flow stations, blown up pipelines, and kidnapped foreign oil workers. But many feel that while the Niger Delta cause is legitimate, the militants' motives are not so pure.

In the process of filming Delta Boys, I had to sneak past government checkpoints to reach militant camps hidden in a maze of winding tributaries at the mouth of the Niger River. Getting access to the militants wasn’t easy, but once I was allowed in camp and demonstrated my willingness to share their risks and their living conditions, they began to share their story. I stayed on as long as I could until I was captured by the Nigerian Army, detained by the government for 10 days and expelled from the country.

I hope that Delta Boys will help raise awareness of the Niger Delta oil conflict. We are overly dependent on oil to produce, transport, and fuel virtually everything that we consume. The Niger Delta is just one of many regions in the world that is being pillaged in service of this addiction.

Delta Boys is virtually complete. I am reaching out through Kickstarter for support to help cover finishing costs.

Unless something is done to change the current course of events, one thing is certain: in 40 years, Nigeria’s oil fields will be empty and the inhabitants of the Niger Delta will have nothing to show for a century of oil exploitation other than environmental devastation.

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