In 2007, oil was discovered off the coast of Ghana.
The follow up questions -- what happens next to the Ghanaians who live there, and the Texas oil company that first put a drill in the ground -- is the subject of a new documentary from Rachel Boynton called “Big Men.”
Ghana had never had oil before. Kosmos Energy, the oil company that made the discovery, was a start-up – this was their first well.
"It was this crazy important moment for the company and also for the country as a whole," says Boynton.
She documents the scramble for all parties involved to make a profit from the oil. She has an amazing amount of access to the oil company’s CEO and Ghanaian government officials.
“The thing that’s holding it together is really this idea of everyone out for himself,” Boynton says.
Boynton also films in Nigeria where oil has been a part of the economy for decades.
“When you’re telling a story about new oil in a country, a lot of people are going to want to know well, what happens to the country?”
She talks to Nigerian rebels who intentionally damage the pipelines to protest misappropriation of oil profits.
“I was really fascinated by how freely people would talk about ‘wanting to be big’” she says, about the title of the documentary. “They were giving voice to something that I see all the time in America, but that people don’t talk really talk about quite so freely.”
The negative side effects of an oil boom are easy to see in Nigeria. Boynton recounts wading through burning oil sludge there. The fires are sent intentionally by two men who were paid to do it – Boynton finds them and speaks to them.
“I realize over the course of this interview that they live in this town, where they’ve set these fires. And you gotta understand, this town has been destroyed by these fires. There’s smoke everywhere, it’s absolutely toxic to live there. The land is destroyed. And I say to these guys you know, you live here, did it ever occur to you that you might be shooting yourselves in the foot?”
One of the men answers,
“I don’t really think I’m shooting myself in the foot because, you know, if I shot myself in the foot and somebody paid me money for it, and I didn’t die, that’s alright with me."