Filmmaker tries to quash Chevron subpoena

Cristina Abello | Reporter's Privilege | Feature | May 5, 2010

The documentary filmmaker subpoenaed by Chevron in the oil company's dispute over whether it polluted the Amazon rain forest appeared in a Manhattan federal court on Friday to explain why unused footage from "Crude: The Real Price of Oil" should be protected by the state's reporters privilege.

“For him to be turned into an arm of private litigation would undo his ability to do this kind of movie,” said attorney Maura Wogan of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, who argued against the subpoena.

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger's 2009 documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, depicted an ongoing dispute between indigenous Ecuadoran communities and Chevron over whether the company is responsible for rain forest pollution. Chevron subpoenaed 600 hours of Berlinger's unused footage, claiming it might contain evidence that could exonerate the company in court. Berlinger asserted that the information was privileged.

At one point Kaplan dismissed Wogan's correct assertion that confidentiality agreements between journalists and sources are not typically put in writing by saying the argument was "not persuasive" to him, Courthouse News Service reported.

It is not clear when Kaplan will issue a decision regarding the subpoena.