Festival

Sundance Film Festival

2012

Support grows for CRUDE team

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.”

The Directors Guild of America then added its voice to the throng. “Documentary filmmakers work under the presumption that their research, sources and draft materials are protected under the First Amendment. Their work often explores sensitive subjects that might not ever reach the public eye if not for the tenacity of the filmmakers and the bravery of their sources,” wrote DGA president Taylor Hackford in a statement to the press. “The chilling effect of this court decision will be felt throughout the documentary community, as future filmmakers will be constantly aware that their materials may be seized as evidence, and those who once might have been willing to share their point of view become wary that a documentarian cannot protect them, even if their participation is anonymous. Safeguarding the right of documentary filmmakers to protect their sources is ultimately about protecting the public’s right to know and preserving the role of investigative filmmaking in exposing the issues, educating the viewers and informing the public.”

And it’s not only Berlinger’s colleagues who have spoken out on his behalf. On Thursday, The Los Angeles Times urged the judge to reconsider his ruling as well. Forcing the director to relinquish his rights to his own exclusively held material “turns the point of journalistic access on its head,” the paper contended in an editorial. “If journalists must reveal what they learn but do not publish from those sources they cultivate most carefully, then sources will keep them at arms’ length.”

The same day the L.A. Times ran its editorial, a ruling came back from the judge agreeing to extend the deadline by which Berlinger was to turn over the material in order to give the filmmaker time to argue for an emergency appeal.

“The temporary stay enables us to advance what we believe is a meritorious
appeal on this very significant first amendment matter,” Berlinger said in a statement to the press following the judge’s agreement to push back the deadline. “We still need the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to grant us a permanent stay in order to file a meaningful appeal, but we are grateful for today’s positive outcome.”

If you want to lend your support to Berlinger and the CRUDE team, click here.