Joe Berlinger is the producer and director of a 2009 documentary called
Crude, which follows the efforts of some 30,000 native Ecuadorians to
sue the petrochemical company Chevron for polluting the Amazon. Earlier
this month, a federal district court in New York ruled that Berlinger
had to turn over about 600 hours of unused footage to Chevron.
Somewhere among Berlinger's outtakes, Chevron hopes to find evidence it
can use to protect itself against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. But the
court's decision has been received by some as a serious imposition on
- Filmmakers: This Erodes Our Rights An open letter
signed by 200 documentarians wonders: "What's next, phone records and
e-mails?" The letter warns that the slippery-slope proposition is
particularly unsettling given the current enervated state of the news
establishment. "As traditional news media finds itself taking fewer
chances due to advertiser fears and corporate ownership, the urgency of
bold, groundbreaking journalism through the documentary medium is
perhaps greater than ever."
- 'A Chilling Effect' Filmmaker and provocateur Michael Moore
worries that if Chevron finds damning evidence against the Ecuadorians
in Berlinger's footage, it will make it harder for similar
documentaries to get made in the future. "The chilling effect of this
is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next
whistleblower 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
- Flies in the Face of Precedent In a joint op-ed, Michael Winship and Bill Moyers
argue that "with certain exceptions, the courts have considered
outtakes of a film to be the equivalent of a reporter’s notebook, to be
shielded from the scrutiny of others. If we – reporters, journalists,
filmmakers – are required to turn research, transcripts and outtakes
over to a government or a corporation – or to one party in a lawsuit –
the whole integrity of the process of journalism is in jeopardy."
- Shows the True Power of Documentary At Big Think, Tal Pinchevsky
looks on the bright side: "Chevron appears to be well aware of the
power of documentary film." Pinchevsky notes that "As [Berlinger's]
footage has suddenly become part of the Chevron lawsuit profiled in the
film, it just might be a first for politically-inspired documentary
film ... All of a sudden, documentary may have finally become the
social tool filmmakers hoped it would be decades ago."
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