‘Crude’ filmmaker wins reprieve

Federal appeals court grants Joe Berlinger stay

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger has won a reprieve from an order that he turn over some 600 hours of outtakes from his documentary “Crude” to Chevron, but it is only the latest legal step for a full hearing on the question.

A stay granted by the Second Court of Appeals on Tuesday means that he does not have to turn over the material immediately. Instead, the appellate court is to set up a hearing for sometime in early July, with an expedited briefing schedule set up over the next several weeks.

“Crude,” released in 1999, chronicled the legal fight being waged in Ecuador, where a class action of residents sued Chevron, charging that it is responsible for the environmental damage and health risks from past oil drilling in a rainforest region of the country. Chevron, which denies the claims, believes that the outtakes could contain evidence of misconduct and even fraud on the part of plaintiffs’ attorneys and government officials. A U.S. District Court judge last month agreed that they were entitled to access to the footage, writing that the company had proved that the material was relevant and could not be reasonably obtained any other way, two standards courts have applied to cases involving journalists’ material.

While the decision is a victory for Berlinger, who has drawn high profile support from Hollywood guilds, fellow directors and others, it does not necessarily mean that he, in the end, won’t have to turn over any material. The appellate court could decide to merely narrow the scope of the subpoena.

After the decision, Berlinger said he was “delighted that the appellate court seems to understand the significant public interest in my appeal being heard. The stay that was granted today will allow us to argue the merits of our position before the Court.”

A spokesman for Chevron, Kent Robertson, said that they were “pleased that the Court recognizes the urgency of this matter.”

“We’d asked for an expedited schedule, and the Court has set one,” he said. “We’ve seen instances of misconduct on the part of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and we remain confident that there are additional instances of fraud that remain concealed.”