Documentarian fights oil company's subpoena in federal court

Christine Beckett | Reporter's Privilege | Quicklink | April 27, 2010

A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday will hear a dispute between Chevron and a documentary filmmaker over a subpoena requesting hundreds of hours of raw footage taken during the filming of the documentary "Crude," Variety reported.

Director Joe Berlinger's "Crude" depicts the legal battle over whether oil companies are responsible for the pollution of the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador. Chevron is being sued by indigenous residents of the Amazon region over the pollution. Chevron has requested the "Crude" footage -- 600 hours worth -- claiming there may be evidence of the plaintiffs' misconduct on the tapes it can use in its defense.

Berlinger and producer Michael Bonfiglio are opposing the subpoena by claiming a reporter's privilege. They say allowing documentary filmmakers to be subpoenaed would drastically chill speech and prevent others from undertaking investigative work like that in "Crude" and deter subjects from cooperating with filmmakers for fear of reprisal.