Appeals court narrows scope of Kaplan ‘Crude’ footage ruling

An U.S. Federal Appeals Court in New York ruled on Thursday that Joe Berlinger, director of Crude, will have to turn over some outtakes from the film to Chevron.
July 15, 2010

An U.S. Federal Appeals Court in New York ruled on Thursday that Joe Berlinger, director of Crude, will have to turn over some outtakes from the film to Chevron. However, the ruling narrows the scope of the amount of footage Berlinger must turn over from an earlier ruling by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who had found in favor of Chevron’s request to get access to all 600 hours of raw footage from the film.

The film documents recent developments in the 17-year legal battle between Chevron and groups of indigenous Ecuadorians who contend that an oil operation owned by Texaco (now part of Chevron) in Lago Agrio contaminated their water supply. Chevron wants to subpoena the footage as it maintains there will likely be content that is ‘directly relevant’ to the Lago Agrio litigation. The new ruling stipulates that the only footage Chevron can access is that which ‘does not appear in commercial released versions of Crude‘ which depicts the plaintiffs’ counsel, private or court-appointed experts in the Lago Agrio case, and/or current or former Ecuadorian government officials. Furthermore, the ruling says that Chevron can only use the footage ‘solely for litigation, arbitration, or submission to official bodies, either local or international,’ and that the oil company must pay for ‘reasonable expenses’ incurred by Berlinger in the reproduction of the footage.

Berlinger sent realscreen a statement via email regarding the ruling, saying that while he can’t offer a full analysis of the ruling until the three-judge panel publishes a corresponding legal opinion, ‘I can say that we are extremely pleased with today’s results. The appeals court has substantially limited Judge Kaplan’s overbroad order, which was the main thrust of our appeal. Furthermore, the court has expressly prohibited Chevron from using any footage we do turn over in their public relations campaigns, a goal that was extremely important to me.

‘The courts have affirmed that documentary filmmakers are journalists deserving of First Amendment protection,’ he continued. ‘I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support that the artistic, media and journalist communities have shown towards this case in the past three months. It was precisely this support that gave me and my legal team at Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein & Selz the strength to stand up for these very important foundations of American democracy.’

Chevron spokespeople have told assorted media that the company is ‘eager to move forward with this matter’ and that, ‘We have already seen instances of collusion and fraud on the part of plaintiffs’ lawyers in portions of Crude that have been publicly released. We are confident that review of the outtakes will reveal additional instances of misconduct.’ A spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ legal team told Reuters, ‘Of the footage the court has allowed, Chevron will be extremely disappointed.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.