CRUDE Documentary Ruling: Sources, Most Footage Protected

Thursday the Court of Appeals issued a largely positive order in the case of CRUDE documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger who had been ordered by a federal judge to turn over 600 hours of unused documentary footage to energy giant Chevron as part of the lawsuit discussed in the film. For more about the lawsuit, which pitted indigenous Ecuadorians against Chevron, click here. The Ecuadorians won their suit, and Chevron is appealing the ruling which resulted in the largest ever settlement for environmental damage — one which has obvious bearing on the BP Gulf oil spill.

Berlinger will have to turn over a portion of the 600 hundred hours of footage, but conversations the director had with defendants, lawyers and their families are protected.

Attorney Michael C. Donaldson who filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of the Writers Guild of America, East, evaluated the remarks as:

a partial victory for both sides. Chevron gets some but not all of what it wants. Berlinger has to turn over some, but not all 600 hours of footage. The many hours of footage that Joe gathered alone with the plaintiffs and their families, friends, and neighbors has all been protected. What is important to the documentary community is that – for the first time in this kind of case – the court is restricting Chevron on how it uses the footage. Chevron can only use the footage for litigation, arbitration, or submission to official bodies. Chevron can’t use the footage in publicity or promotional materials. The documentary community is awaiting the final order of the court because it should give detailed discussion of the court’s thinking and provide guidelines to help documentary filmmakers in the future.

It is important to note that the many hours of footage that Joe gathered as he talked to the victims and their families does not have to be turned over pursuant to this order. In terms of the trust and confidence that is at the heart of investigative filmmaking, this is a very important element of the order.

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