BIG MEN (2014, doc)


big men Greetings again from the darkness. The best we can hope for from a documentary is that it tells both sides to the story. But what happens when there are even more sides? Director Rachel Boynton expertly presents the perspective of numerous parties trying to secure their fair share (or more) of the first commercial oil field in Ghana … known as Jubilee Field. Her surprising and unprecedented access offers us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what happens when business and politics mix during a clash of cultures.

Beginning with spot on quotes concerning greed and special interest – one from economist Milton Friedman and one from the 1948 movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – the movie spans the years of 2007 through 2011 as Dallas-based Kosmos Energy frantically maneuvers to develop this oil find while juggling the Ghana monarchy and government (two administrations), as well as the pressures from venture capitalists and investors Blackstone and Warburg Pincus.

Ms. Boynton’s access to closed-door meetings and negotiations is fascinating, as are her brief encounters with the local militant rebels (The Deadly Underdogs) on a mission to grab a share of the money – often by cutting the pipelines and starting fires (they want the contracts for clean-up). She interviews oilman Jim Musselman while he is President of Kosmos and he is negotiating with the Ghana government and King, and then again after he is ousted from the company by the Board of Directors who are demanding a quicker return on their investment.

The Ghana situation is contrasted to Nigeria, which is currently the 5th largest oil supplier to the United States. The billions in oil profits have not benefited the citizens of Nigeria, who continue to live in harsh poverty. The Ghana government gives every indication they don’t want this to be the case with Jubilee Field … even though they have had the same results with gold and cocoa. What we soon learn (though we already knew) is that every party involved, despite the words they speak, really have only their self-interest at the forefront.

When the election changes the players in Ghana, we see Kosmos scramble to maintain the agreements and their rights. Outside pressures and investigations add further turmoil and we begin to see that rational thought and fairness are rarely in play. There may be plenty to go around for everyone, but that matters little since everyone employs the “greed is good” approach. The culture clash is undeniable, but greed is the great equalizer.

We witness the May 2011 IPO for Kosmos Energy from the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and it’s a reminder of what a strange world “big money” is on Wall Street, and maybe only the “big men” really understand. Boynton’s documentary does everything possible to enlighten the rest of us.

watch the trailer:

 

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