In the documentary film “Crude,” director Joe Berlinger follows one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits in the world, a David and Goliath story that pits 30,000 rainforest dwellers from the Ecuadorian Amazon against the oil giant Chevron.
The plaintiffs allege that Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001, hence Chevron’s involvement) dumped oil — at least 10 times the amount seen in the BP spill — into their water supply, causing birth defects and increased rates of cancers and other illnesses. In the film, Chevron denies the allegations and argues that the Ecuadorian rainforest dwellers and their lawyers are in it for the money.
Now, Berlinger is fighting his own battle with Chevron. This past May, the company subpoenaed him to turn over 600 hours of outtakes from the film.
“Little did I know that I would be dragged into my own David and Goliath struggle,” Berlinger said.
Chevron claims that Berlinger’s footage could help the company show corruption and misconduct on the part of the plaintiffs. Berlinger argues that his outtakes are protected by journalistic privilege, which shields reporters from revealing confidential sources or divulging confidential material. A Federal District Court judge in New York ruled in favor of Chevron, saying that the filmmaker did qualify for journalistic privilege but that conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met.
On Wednesday, Berlinger takes his case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
“To me this is a battle about the First Amendment,” Berlinger said. “If we lose, if the appeal is rejected and this decision to turn everything over remains in place, this will have a chilling precedent on investigative reporters, on documentaries, on anybody who digs into a story for the long hall.”