WGA backs ‘Crude’ filmmaker

Berlinger forced to turn over 600 hours to raw footage

The Writers Guild of America East has joined in supporting “Crude: The Real Price of Oil” filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who’s been required by a federal judge to turn over 600 hours of raw footage to Chevron Corp.

Judge Lewis Kaplan issued the order May 6, ruling that Berlinger could not use the First Amendment to shield himself from the effort by Chevron to subpoena the footage.

The WGA East notified its 4,000 members Thursday that it was joining with the Independent Documentary Assn. in support of Berlinger.

“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 guild said. “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 film centers on the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) over its operations at its oil field at Lago Agrio that contaminated their water.

Chevron has said Berlinger’s footage could be helpful as it seeks to have the litigation dismissed and pursues arbitration. Berlinger and his attorneys are asking Kaplan to delay Chevron’s subpoena pending their appeal.

The IDA’s open letter, announced last week, was signed by 200 documentary filmmakers including Alex Gibney, Michael Moore, D.A. Pennebaker, Barbara Kopple, Davis Guggenheim, Louie Psihoyos and Morgan Spurlock.

The Directors Guild of America also issued a statement of support Tuesday for Berlinger.

“Documentary filmmakers work under the presumption that their research, sources and draft materials are protected under the First Amendment,” DGA president Taylor Hackford said in a statement.”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. 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.”

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