In a move that somehow simultaneously combines unbelievable hubris with pathetic desperation, Chevron has filed a motion to subpoena some 600 hours of footage shot by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger during the making of his award-winning documentary film Crude.
On April 9th, Chevron filed a motion for discovery, asking the federal court in NY to allow the company to serve Berlinger a subpoena for "all of the 'Crude' footage that was shot, acquired, or licensed in connection with the the movie 'Crude'."
Crude, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and opened in theaters across the U.S. last fall, tells the story of the 17-year long legal battle between Chevron and 30,000 indigenous and campesino residents of Ecuador's Amazon ravaged by oil drilling by Texaco (now Chevron).
Attorneys for Crude director Joe Berlinger filed a motion on Friday to oppose Chevron's request for the footage. Maura Wogan, attorney for Berlinger and his production company said that they will "vigorously oppose Chevron’s attempt to get to these materials." Lawyers for both sides will appear in court for a hearing on the matter this Friday, April 30th in federal court in New York.
In a press release, Berlinger said:
"Documentary filmmakers play an essential role in exposing social injustice. As with traditional journalists, their sources must be protected or we risk the demise of this kind of comprehensive investigative reporting."
Today, Berlinger, who has frequently explored themes of crime, punishment, and justice in his influential documentaries, told The New York Times, "I would equally be resisting a subpoena from the plaintiffs."
Quite simply, this is a case of Chevron harassing an acclaimed filmmaker for merely training his lens upon the company's legacy in the Amazon. It surely has the intended affect of intimidating other journalists who may turn their attention to Chevron's massive oil contamination in Ecuador.
Chevron and its high-powered lawyers at international corporate law behemoth Gibson Dunn are surely also hoping to mine the footage for any material that they might find useful for their relentless public relations schemes to try to discredit the plaintiffs, their attorney's and the courts in Ecuador.
But regardless of Chevron's motivation, Maura Wogan of Frankfurt Kurnit, the lawyers for Mr. Berlinger and his production company, says Berlinger is protected under what is known as journalist's or reporter's privilege.
"Unused film footage and other editorial materials from Crude are protected by the journalist’s privilege under federal law and the First Amendment."
Chevron's latest legal maneuver is another example of the desperate and abusive lengths the company will go– and the resources it's willing to commit– to evade responsibility for its oil pollution in Ecuador. This move adds insult to injury for the thousands of people in Ecuador's rainforest region who continue to suffer the impacts of the oil giant's pollution in their communities.
Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.