Oil is complicated business.
A new documentary juxtaposes the story of a U.S. oil company in its venture to reap profit from an oil field it discovered off the coast of Ghana with the tale of Nigeria’s deeply corrupt oil industry. In telling the story, “Big Men” director Rachel Boynton takes her audience from the boardroom negotiations of U.S.-based Kosmos Energy to the boats of militant groups in Nigeria, as they try to claim a piece of the Niger Delta’s vast petroleum riches.
“It isn't just outright condemning the oil companies and I'm not saying they're saints either but it is portraying a complicated situation,” Boynton told “Top Line.”
Obtaining access to Kosmos Energy, Boynton said, was the most challenging hurdle in creating the film.
“Oil companies are not known for opening up their doors and inviting in independent filmmakers,” she said, explaining that she ultimately gained the confidence of the company’s executive Brian Maxted.
“I had approached them before they drilled their first well as a company, and they didn't respond to me,” she said. “And then I filmed with Brian Maxted … and shortly thereafter they drilled their first well as a company in 2007, and with that well they discovered this massive oil field off Ghana, which is now known as the Jubilee field, and so I approached Brian and I said ‘listen, I think there's a movie here.’”
The movie follows Kosmos chief executive James Musselman as he travels to Ghana to solidify a partnership with the Ghana government and courts the goodwill of the necessary political players. In one scene, Musselman pays his respects to the Ashanti king, bringing along a generous supply of alcohol.
“It's actually quite normal,” Boynton said, explaining that she was also expected to bring schnapps to the chief of any village she visited as a filmmaker. “But as a scene, it does give you the sense of the cultural disconnect.”
In comparing Ghana’s budding oil industry with the Nigeria’s corrupt Delta, Boynton said it became apparent to her that the U.S. government had very limited “on-the-ground knowledge” of the deteriorated and volatile security situation in the Delta.
“The State Department did not allow its employees to go to the Delta,” she said. “And at the time it struck me, how in the world are they supposed to know what's going on if they're not allowed to visit?”
For more of the interview with Boynton, and to learn more about the making of “Big Men,” now playing in theaters, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC News’ Betsy Klein, Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, and Tom Thornton contributed to this episode.
ABC News’ John Bullard and Vicki Vennell assisted in production.