Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker ordered to turn over some 600 hours of footage from his documentary “Crude,” says that he found a three-member appellate court “sympathetic” to his legal teams arguments.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals this morning heard oral appeals from Berlinger’s team and that of Chevron, which is seeking the footage to use in its defense of an environmental class action suit in Ecuador.
Berlinger’s case already has drawn attention from First Amendment advocates and many other filmmakers, with even Mikhail Gorbachev signing a petition in support of the director along with Leonardo DiCaprio and Woody Allen. Meanwhile, Chevron has amassed its own cadre of supporters, include Dole Food Co., which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in which it related to the oil giant’s claim that it faced “fraudulent lawsuits” aimed at U.S. companies in foreign jurisdictions. Also siding with Chevron is the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which noted that two of the company’s executives, Rodrigo Perez Pallares and Ricardo Reis Veiga, face criminal charges for their role in a prior effort to settle the litigation in Ecuador.
Berlinger said in a statement after the hearing: “While I certainly don’t want to call the game early and want to await the actual decision, it seems the court today was sympathetic to our primary concern about narrowing the amount of footage to be produced and making sure it is put under some kind of protective order. So, my fingers are crossed for a favorable decision.”
A Chevron spokesman, Kent Robertson, issued this statement:
“We fully support freedom the press and journalists’ rights. But ‘Crude’ is not the work of a true journalist. In ‘Crude,’ Mr. Berlinger cut material from the theatrical version for the DVD release at the instruction of the plaintiffs’ legal team. In doing so, Mr. Berlinger did what no journalist would do – he allowed his subjects to edit out possible misconduct on their part.
“From day one of this case, Chevron has simply wanted the truth to prevail. The footage Mr. Berlinger cut could help get to the truth and that is the sole reason for our interest in it. We believe this is a reasonable request – and a necessary one for anyone who cares about justice.”
Berlinger has noted that the footage is still in the version of the movie posted on Netflix, and that Chevron raised no objections after an initial screening of the documentary.
Update: Robertson’s charge that Berlinger is not a “true journalist” cuts right to the director’s reputation. I interviewed Berlinger this afternoon, and he says in response to the statement: “Chevron has denied that there is pollution in the Amazon, but if there is pollution, then they deny that it is harmful; if it is harmful, they then deny it is their responsibility.
“Now they are denying that I am a journalist. When ’60 Minutes’ aired a highly critical story about the pollution case, they attacked ’60 Minutes’ and created their own mock news report to counter ’60 Minutes” critcism. Chevron mischaracterizes how, when and why the scene in ‘Crude’ was deleted. The film speaks for itself, as have the countless journalists who have praised ‘Crude’ for its fairness and balance, which probably makes these reviews of ‘Crude’ propaganda in the eyes of Chevron.”