On Thursday, the federal appeals court ruled that filmmaker Joe Berlinger turn over some (not all) of his unused footage from the documentary “Crude” to the oil company Chevron, to be used in an ongoing lawsuit in Ecuador.
The case, one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits in the world, pits 30,000 rainforest dwellers from the Ecuadorian Amazon against the oil giant Chevron. The plaintiffs allege that Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001, hence Chevron’s involvement) dumped oil — at least twice the amount seen in the BP spill — into their water supply, causing birth defects, increased rates of cancers and other illnesses. In the film, Chevron denies the allegations and argues that the Ecuadorian rainforest dwellers and their lawyers are in it for the money.
Need to Know interviews Berlinger about the Ecuadorian’s case and parallels to the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico.
Recently, Berlinger was dragged into his own battle with Chevron. This past May, the company subpoenaed him to turn over 600 hours of his raw footage. Chevron claimed that Berlinger’s footage could help the company show corruption and misconduct on the part of the plaintiffs. Berlinger argued that his outtakes are protected by journalist privilege, which shields reporters from revealing confidential sources or divulging confidential material.
“The point is that access in the future for journalists like me might not be granted,” said Berlinger. “Stories like Crude might not be told, and that is what we are fighting about.”
In May, the Federal District Court judge in New York ruled in favor of Chevron, saying that the filmmaker did qualify for journalistic privilege but that conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met.
Last week Berlinger took his case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The panel ordered Berlinger to turn over “all footage that does not appear in publicly released versions of “Crude” portraying the attorneys representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, all court-appointed experts and Ecuadorian government officials. The order also stated that Chevron is to use the footage “solely for litigation, arbitration, or submission to official bodies, either local or international.”