by Elizah Leigh
Categories: Film/TV
Tags: , .


Just in case you’re not already familiar with award winning documentarian Joe Berlinger’s much buzzed about film CRUDE, it explores what to date has been the absolute largest landmark eco-lawsuit in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle at $27 billion between 30,000 native rainforest inhabitants and America’s oil conglomerate Chevron (which at the time of filming was known as Texaco).

Acquiring video footage that detailed both sides of the case throughout a three year period, Berlinger was able to highlight what happens when the never ending quest for oil blinds corporations (and oftentimes even renders them apathetic) to the human and environmental casualties left in their wake.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs accused Chevron of destroying their stomping grounds by systematically polluting and contaminating multiple ecosystems for 30 years during their exploration of Lago Agrio oil field  (and even dumping billions of gallons of oil-polluted water back into the rainforest), triggering a comprehensive array of health ailments among the rainforest’s residents including birth defects, assorted cancers and leukemia.

Chevron had an entirely different perspective, insisting that they were not responsible for the contamination and claiming that a bribery scheme was being engaged to take advantage of their financial position.

Even though the documentary had its day in the theatres back in 2009, the dust hasn’t settled because Berlinger has now been ordered by a federal judge to furnish Chevron with 600+ hours of raw video footage that the oil giant intends to use in the hope of “pursuing an international treaty arbitration related to the lawsuit” and to potentially get the litigation dismissed.

The judge on the case explained that since the filmmaker wasn’t able to prove that he obtained confidentiality agreements with any of his interviewed subjects, there is technically no violation of First Amendment rights and Berlinger’s footage will enable Chevron to potentially achieve justice by “determining Ecuador’s violation of international law and its denial of due process and fair treatment to Chevron.”

Fellow documentarian Michael Moore is rather disturbed by this turn of events, fearing that it could detrimentally impact his craft in light of the fact that his most valuable, insightful movie moments have happened when corporate reps have been willing to reveal internal documents or highly sensitive facts which shed light on wrongdoing.

Moore says that the “chilling effect” of courts being able to subpoena documentary footage is that “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.”

This situation is still unfolding as Berlinger’s attorneys request that the subpoena be delayed while they attempt to pursue an appeal.

Via New York Times

  • Han Shan

    In concluding his decision to allow Chevron to subpoena Berlinger’s footage, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote:

    “The Court expresses no view as to whether the concerns of either side are supported by proof of improper political influence, corruption, or other misconduct affecting the Ecuadorian proceedings. As [Supreme Court] Justice [Louis] Brandeis once wrote, however, “sunshine is said to the best of disinfectants.” Review of Berlinger’s outtakes will contribute to the goal of seeing not only that justice is done, but that it appears to be done.”

    In many cases, I am all for ‘sunlight’ – Brandeis was presciently referring to transparency and openness in government and regulation of the financial system. But in this context, the judge is DANGEROUSLY wrong.

    If the judge’s ruling – which went against abundant legal precedent in the United States – is allowed to stand, it could indeed endanger the critical work of people like filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who explore under-reported issues of profound social and ecological importance. In that way, it would have the exact opposite effect from what Brandeis was suggesting.

    And while the Judge is wrong, Brandeis’ principle is right. While Chevron tries to muddy the waters and deceive the world as to its responsibilities for massive suffering in Ecuador, we need the efforts of journalists like Berlinger – and social justice activists, human rights lawyers, environmentalists, and supporters like you, dear reader – to expose Chevron and its Chernobyl in the Amazon to the cleansing power of sunlight.

    Read my blog post on this important story here:

    -Han Shan
    Amazon Watch

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