A documentary filmmaker says he will fight a request by Chevron to turn over hundreds of hours of footage he shot for a documentary about pollution in the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador, film the company says may be useful in lawsuits it faces accusing it of damaging the environment there.
The filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, whose previous documentaries include “Paradise Lost” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” said that he had been served with a request from Chevron for more than 600 hours of unused footage for his 2009 documentary “Crude.” The movie chronicles Ecuadorians who sued Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, saying the companies’ practices at its Lago Agrio oil field resulted in the contamination of their drinking and bathing water.
Mr. Berlinger, who is scheduled to appear Friday in United States District Court in Manhattan, said Chevron’s request for subpoena was a violation of his First Amendment rights and that he was opposing the request on principle. “I would equally be resisting a subpoena from the plaintiffs,” he said Monday in a telephone interview.
Mr. Berlinger said that if the oil company obtained his footage, “it would have a serious chilling effect on these kinds of investigative films.” “If I can’t promise my subjects that kind of confidentiality, I fear I and others won’t be able to make these kinds of films again,” he said.
Randy M. Mastro, a lawyer representing Chevron, said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon: “Chevron simply seeks here outtakes relating to the access this filmmaker was given to film the plaintiffs and their lawyers, government officials and supposedly independent experts meetings with the plaintiffs and their lawyers. This film record is extremely relevant to ongoing litigation in Ecuador and an international treaty arbitration against the Republic of Ecuador over its denial of due process and unfair treatment of Chevron.”
In a statement reported by Variety [registration required], Chevron said the DVD release of “Crude” omitted a scene from the theatrical version of the film, in which representatives for the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio lawsuit take part in a focus group with a neutral court expert.
The statement added that Mr. Berlinger “may have also unwittingly captured on film other instances of improper collaboration between court experts and the plaintiffs’ representatives.” Chevron said, “Through our discovery request, we are simply asking to review Mr. Berlinger’s film archive to establish if there are other documented instances of misconduct.”
Maura Wogan, a lawyer for Mr. Berlinger, said that the scene in question was included in the theatrical and DVD releases of “Crude,” but it was edited after the Sundance Film Festival based on the reactions of audiences there.