This is a powerful documentary that looks at the plight of the Papuan people affected by the mining of the Ok Tedi River and the attitudes and actions of the mining companies polluting their lands.
In a remote Papua New Guinea province the landowners are in a complex struggle with a multinational over their rights and their environment. By 2001, BHP had dumped billions of tonnes of tailings from the Ok Tedi copper mine into the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems. In 1994, the company was stunned when landowners successfully enlisted the support of Australian lawyers to prosecute a class action because of environmental devastation of their land. By 2000, after dishonoring an out-of-court settlement to clean up the river, BHP decided to exit the mine. As part of the plan, BHP 'gave' its fifty two percent share of the Ok Tedi mine to the Papua New Guinea Government as a gift. In return, they demanded a guarantee of total immunity from prosecution by landowners. The company set out on a campaign to get signatures from local people on their exit documents.
Many villagers, their food supply poisoned by mine pollution and dependent on compensation payments, are strongly attracted to BHP's offers of money and community projects. A small group of landowners - the protagonists in the film - desperately try to convince local people, lured by company promises, not to sign their rights away. As pressure builds in the final and secretive stages of BHP's exit negotiations, confusion reins, divisions grow and death threats are reported. Our protagonists are devastated when village leaders - flown in by company helicopters and feted at company expense - blindly sign the exit agreement.
Disillusioned, some leaders try to give evidence of the methods used by company representatives to get their signatures, but to no avail. The agreement has already been passed into law. The environment and the people of the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers are slowly being poisoned as the mining operation continues to operate ‘as normal’.