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Here’s a fascinating story. Documentary filmmaker Jason Glaser, who went to Nicaragua to interview people about pesticide exposure on Dole banana plantations, testified Thursday in a civil lawsuit that he was an undercover operative for a Texas law firm.
“I decided the film wasn’t going to change a lot in this world,” Glaser said on the witness stand in a case involving six men claiming they were left sterile by pesticide exposure. “I decided to work with the firm and help with the legal process…I decided to use the film for that purpose.”
Leaving aside the question of what’s nobler these days — documentary filmmaking or law — doesn’t this raise concerns for filmmakers who might not want interviewees suspecting they’ve got a secret spy in the midst?
Ironically, last year, we covered another documentarian who battled with Dole over banana plantations. Dole filed a defamation lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker for not making suggested changes to a doc. The filmmaker hit back with a countersuit and eventually Dole dropped its lawsuit.
But still, the credibility of documentarians is probably a lot stronger if they are independent.
Currently, in another case, filmmaker Joe Berlinger is fighting to keep 600 hours of raw footage taken for a documentary on oil pollution in Ecuador away from Chevron. Interestingly, Dole filed an amicus brief in the case. As the Citizen Media Law Project recently put it, “At stake is the breadth of the protection given to unpublished newsgathering materials and, ultimately, the basic trust between journalists and their sources.”
So back to the Glaser case.
The Dole attorney got a chance to question Glaser yesterday and he revealed that the Texas law firm had paid him and his crew $17,000 a month and picked up the expenses for his office, cleaning person, and gardeners.
The filmmaker says he was trying to be “more than a filmmaker” and make a difference. Is that the right move?
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