A village of Georgian farmers takes on the mighty BP oil corporation when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline heads their way in engaging docu “The Pipeline Next Door,” a fourth gig for Georgian-born, Gaul-based helmer Nino Kirtadze (“Dites a mes amis que je suis mort,” 2004). Kirtadze’s verite approach creates a well-rounded, character-led drama in which no one, not even the oil execs, is simply a hero or villain. Although well liked at fests visited so far, talk-intensive pic is more likely to trickle down cablers’ pipes than gush theatrically abroad.
Tiny village of Sakire is tucked at the bottom of the Borjomi valley, a region long known for its lush, emerald landscape and underground springs of flavorful mineral water. Plans will lay the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline right through villagers’ farmlands and separate the community from its cemetery.
The Sakire townsfolk largely accept the fact that they won’t be able to stop the pipeline, which is being built foot by foot farther up the valley. But, they want a fairer settlement for the land they’ll lose, and worry about environmental problems.
Disputes break out over who owns which parcels of land, and soon, led by feisty matriarch Leila, the whole village is up in arms against the mayor, Akaki Bliadze, whom they accuse of various crimes, from taking bribes to just not fighting in their corner. The poor man looks quite beleaguered.
Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, American BP-executive Ed Johnson gets wind of the problems in Sakire which threaten to put the project behind schedule and make him look bad back home. He and BP have the support of Georgia’s president, who badly wants the pipeline to bring wealth to the impoverished nation. Eventually, Johnson travels to Sakire.
Although pic eschews voiceover and keeping subtitles pretty much to a minimum, forceful characters emerge in the many lively scenes where the villagers debate their problems. Some Sakireans seem motivated by greed, and comedy is generated by squawking squabbles over how many fruit trees one peasant has on his land.
Although Kirtadze can’t resist filming Johnson in his limousine, often looking painfully ill at ease in this chaotic former Soviet Republic country, his willingness to give the filmmakers seemingly full access and speak fairly honestly to the villagers — he admits he can’t promise nothing will ever go wrong with the pipeline — wins sympathy.
Tech package is sturdy, with nimble editing by Isabel Lorente repping one of the standout elements.