Friday, September 10, 2010

Filmmaker Battles Chevron

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan issued an order on July 15th in the case of documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper 1992) after hearing arguments from attorneys for both the filmmaker and for Chevron. Berlinger had been ordered by the lower trial court to turn over 600 hours from his documentary Crude to Chevron. The documentary chronicles the legal struggle by 30,000 Ecuadorian rainforest residents over Chevron’s illegal dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic water into the Amazon. At least 345 million gallons was crude oil, and Chevron admitted to the dumping in order to save $1-3 per barrel of oil. The suit concerned whether or not a journalist could be compelled to turn over such materials.

The Court of Appeals order was a partial win for each side. The panel concluded that Mr. Berlinger must turn over to Chevron all footage that does not appear in publicly released versions of the movie that depict the lawyers for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, experts or current or former government officials. However, the many hours of footage that Berlinger gathered alone with the plaintiffs and their families, friends, and neighbor does not need to be disclosed and the court restricted Chevron use of the footage to the legal dispute.

In August Berlinger claimed that Chevron violated the court’s order by making “false and misleading” statements about his outtakes. Several days ago a federal judge in Manhattan ruled Berlinger must submit to depositions in the case and writing that the oil company’s original request to see the filmmaker’s raw documentary footage was not a fishing expedition. Chevron has been continuously fighting the filmmaker and its legal tactics have been criticized by many prominent figures and groups including Robert Redford, Bill Moyers, Michael Moore, the Director's Guild of America, the Writer's Guild of America, the NY Times, LA Times, NBC and HBO.