Broadcast Union News is a clearing center for information of interest to people working in television, film, print/electronic media, and theater. A chance for AEA, AFTRA, IATSE, IBEW, CWA-NABET, DGA, SAG, Newspaper Guild, WGA, and non-represented entertainment industry workers to share information with an eye towards improving wages, benefits, and working conditions for all.
The director Michael Moore says that a federal judge’s ruling to allow Chevron to subpoena footage from the documentary “Crude” could have dire consequences on the documentary filmmaking process, and urged that film’s director to resist the subpoena if he can.
On Thursday, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan said that Joe Berlinger, the director of “Crude,” would have to turn over more than 600 hours of footage from that documentary.
The film chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying an oil field contaminated their water. Chevron said that Mr. Berlinger’s footage could be helpful as it seeks to have the litigation dismissed and pursues an international treaty arbitration related to the lawsuit.
In a telephone interview on Thursday night, Mr. Moore, whose films include “Bowling for Columbine” and “Capitalism: A Love Story,” said that he had never heard of such a ruling.
“If this isn’t overturned, it would make a lot of documentary filmmakers afraid,” Mr. Moore said. “People are going to have to start getting rid of all their extra footage now, right?”
Should the decision of Judge Kaplan be upheld and a subpoena be served for Mr. Berlinger’s footage, Mr. Moore said, “The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for.”
Mr. Moore said that in making his documentary films like “Roger & Me,” he has spoken in confidence to corporate employees who have revealed sensitive information or shared internal documents.
“I’ve never had to deal with any corporation suing me to find out how I gather this information,” he said. “Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom.”
Mr. Moore said he hoped the judge’s ruling would be overturned on appeal, and said that if it is not Mr. Berlinger should resist the subpoena “if he can.”
“I think that he’ll find that he’ll have the support of hundreds of filmmakers who will back him in this,” Mr. Moore said.
An Ecuadorean cancer victim’s reflection in an oil- polluted
stream near her home, in the documentary “Crude.”
Juan Diego Pérez/Entendre Films
“Documentaries are a form of journalism,” he added.
The lawyers for Mr. Berlinger said they would ask Judge Kaplan to stay the subpoena while they appeal the decision.
Joe Berlinger, the director of the documentary “Crude,” said he was dismayed by a judge’s ruling to allow Chevron to subpoena the footage from his film but that he would comply with a subpoena if one is issued, after exhausting his legal remedies.
The director Ric Burns said that a judge’s decision to permit Chevron to subpoena the footage from the movie “Crude” could deliver a “killer blow” to how documentary filmmakers cultivate their sources and tell their stories. Mr. Burns said the ruling “contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism.”
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court said that the director Joe Berlinger would have to turn over more than 600 hours of footage from his documentary “Crude.” The film, which was released last year, chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying the operations of the companies’ oil field at Lago Agrio contaminated their water.
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.