Monday, January 17, 2011

'Crude' Filmmaker loses Court Appeal

Joe Berlinger is not a journalist. At least that's what a Federal Appeals court says.

The filmmaker for 2009's Crude is unable to invoke journalistic privilege and is no longer legally able to refuse to turn over more than 500 hours of raw footage from his documentary.

According to the judges, “Given all the circumstances of the making of the film... as reasonably found by the district court, particularly the fact that Berlinger’s making of the film was solicited by the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio litigation for the purpose of telling their story, and that changes to the film were made at their instance, Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for the purpose of independent reporting and commentary.”

Lawyers for Chevron have sought Berlinger's footage for months because they believe it demonstrates collusion between the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio lawsuit and a court appointed independent expert.

For those who don't know, Crude chronicles the lawsuit brought by a group of Ecuadoreans who say Texaco's (now owned by Chevron) Lago Agrio oil field polluted their water supply. It remains locked in legal battle.

Berlinger (and most other documentary filmmakers) are understandably upset by the ruling which continues to wedge a distinction between documentaries and journalism.

What do you think? Should Berlinger be considered a journalist? Or do filmmakers operate in an unprotected gray area?

1 comment:

Arturo said...

Most journalism happens because someone wants it to happen. That aspect of the decision is misguided and dangerous. But what if Chevron had requested a change because it was damaging to their case and the filmmaker made the change - after the film was premiered?