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The Fallout from “Crude”

Last summer filmmaker Joe Berlinger was ordered to turn over outtakes from his documentary “Crude,” despite his own objections and that of many industry groups that he had First Amendent journalistic protection.

The result: Chevron, which sought the clips for its defense in an environmental suit brought by residents of an Ecuadoran rainforest, says that the excised footage shows many instances of judicial and government misconduct.

The New York Times’ John Schwartz says that the whole episode is a “cautionary tale for lawyers who invite in documentary filmmakers to tell the story of their legal fights.”

But Alex Gibney tells the Times that it could have a chilling effect on documentary filmmakers’ ability to have candid conversations with interview subjects, or even to make their projects if they know that there could be hefty legal bills in the offing as they pursue controversial material.

“I want to create that safe space where people feel like they can talk to me because they trust me to use their remarks in a way that’s properly contextualized,” he said.

Some of the clips are posted on the Law.com site here.

Chevron, with some ammunition, has long charged that the deck was stacked against them in Ecuador, and the candid encounters of the plaintiffs included in the final version of “Crude” only raised their suspicions that there was more to tell.

But Berlinger has long defended his project as a balanced portrait of the case, far different from the spate of point-of-view documentaries of recent years, like those made by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock.

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