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CRUDE (Legal Defense Fundraiser) Tues, June 22 @ 8 pm IFC CENTER Q&A w/ director Joe Berlinger, attorney Maura Wogan, Morgan Spurlock, Michael Winship (WGA East) Tickets are $16 (all proceeds go to Berlinger’s legal defense fund) Tickets now on sale | More info To support Berlinger’s legal defense fund and shine additional light on…
More organizations have come forward to voice their support for documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger. The director was ordered by a judge earlier this month turn over 600-plus hours of footage shot for his film CRUDE to the oil giant Chevron, which hopes to use the footage to defend itself from the litigation efforts chronicled in the film. Berlinger’s lawyers have argued that the filmmaker’s material should be protected under journalistic privilege and that, by turning over the footage, he would be violating an understanding of confidentiality with his subjects.
Last week, as Berlinger sought to appeal the court’s decision, the Writers Guild of America, East, threw its support behind the director, just as the Independent Documentary Association and 20 Oscar-winning directors had done before it. “To accede to such a demand is tantamount to a reporter being told to turn over all of his or her notes and to violate confidentiality agreements with sources,” the Writers Guild wrote in an open letter. “As with the members of the IDA, our WGAE members working in the documentary field ‘hold ourselves to the highest of journalistic standards in the writing, producing, and editing of our films.’ Those standards include the protection of our outtakes, script drafts, research and sources.”
CRUDE director Joe Berlinger.
Earlier this month, when a judge ruled that documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger was to turn over all 600-plus hours of footage he shot for his film CRUDE to the oil giant Chevron, which is seeking the footage to help the company defend itself from the litigation efforts depicted in the film, several of Berlinger’s fellow directors immediately expressed dismay at the decision and support for their colleague.
“It makes me shudder to think that all that stuff would be turned over,” documentarian Ric Burns (who produced THE CIVIL WAR (1990) with his brother Ken Burns) told the New York Times, “not because of any secrets that are revealed, but because of the killer blow to the trust a filmmaker cultivated, deeply, over a very long period of time.”
Burns contended that the ruling, if upheld, could have long-term effects. “Next time, there won’t be a CRUDE. There won’t be a film,” he said. “That’ll be good for Chevron, I guess. Because the next time you go, you’re going to have a much leerier group of informants.”
Michael Moore (of FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE) agreed. “The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistle blower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for,” Moore told the New York Times, suggesting that Berlinger resist turning over the footage “if he can.” He added, “I think that he’ll find that he’ll have the support of hundreds of filmmakers who will back him in this.”
While Moore has occasionally been accused of exaggerating for effect, in this case, his prediction proved to be spot-on.
As the world struggles to absorb the devastating implications of the oil spill currently glugging untold barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, while the companies involved point fingers at each other and decline to fully admit their mistakes, another oil-related drama has been playing out in a federal court in New York.
Chevron, the oil giant at the center of Joe Berlinger’s documentary CRUDE, which opened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, has petitioned the court to allow it to subpoena more than 600 hours of footage shot for his film. The film tells the story of a group of Ecuadoreans who are suing the oil company, contending that it poisoned their people by dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into their rivers and onto their land in what has become known as “Amazon Chernobyl.”
Chevron is seeking a dismissal of the suit, which has dragged on for years, and believes that the footage may help its case. But Berlinger’s attorneys have argued that the director should be offered the same privileges that all investigative journalists receive, allowing them to protect confidential sources and information. They insist that forcing him to turn over the footage would violate his rights under the First Amendment and constitute a breech of the confidentiality agreements he’d established with the people who appear in the film.
A little more than a week ago, the ruling came back.