Court orders filmmaker to turn over footage

Joe Berlinger must surrender outtakes from 'Crude' doc

NEW YORK -- A federal judge ordered a documentary filmmaker Thursday to turn over about 600 hours of raw footage from a film about a court fight over whether Chevron owes billions of dollars in damages for oil contamination in Ecuador.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said filmmaker Joe Berlinger must surrender the outtakes from "Crude," which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, to lawyers for Chevron.

Kaplan said Berlinger could not use the First Amendment to shield himself from Chevron's effort to get the raw footage because Berlinger had not demonstrated he is entitled to a journalist's privilege of confidentiality.

The judge noted that a lawyer for 30,000 inhabitants of the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador who are considered victims of environmental damage solicited Berlinger to create a documentary of the progression of a lawsuit through the courts in Ecuador from the perspective of his clients.

The lawsuit in Ecuador's courts is the continuation of a 17-year-old legal battle in which Ecuadoreans claim Texaco contaminated their land during three decades of oil exploration and extraction there. Texaco became a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron in 2001.

Kaplan said the plaintiffs' lawyers were on the screen through most of the documentary, which contains less than 1% of the total footage shot by Berlinger. The judge also noted that Berlinger has conceded he removed at least one scene from the film at the lawyers' direction.

The judge said he was expressing no view as to whether the concerns of either side were supported by proof of improper political influence, corruption or other misconduct affecting the Ecuadorean proceedings.

"Review of Berlinger's outtakes will contribute to the goal of seeing not only that justice is done, but that it appears to be done," he wrote.

Maura Wogan, a lawyer for Berlinger, said Berlinger will ask Kaplan to delay the effect of his order so he has time to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.

The ruling threatens "great harm to documentary filmmakers and investigative reporters everywhere," she said.