Back to selection


The following letter, drafted from materials provided by Donaldson and Callif, is an update on an amicus brief filed in support of filmmaker Joe Berlinger. If you’re not familiar with the situation regarding his film Crude and Chevron, please read the below and then this editorial by Robert Redford detailing the importance of this case.

On June 23, 2010, the IFP joined thirteen other organizations and nine individuals in signing an amicus brief in support of filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who was ordered to turn over 600 hours of outtakes from his documentary Crude to petrochemical company Chevron Corporation.

Chevron, threatened by an Ecuadorian class-action lawsuit for environmental contamination to the Amazon rainforest (the Lago Agrio Litigation), intends to use the footage to defend itself against the lawsuit as well as to defend the criminal prosecution of two of its attorneys in the litigation.

An amicus brief is filed as a friend of the court to inform the court of the wider implications the case has on the filmmaking community, even though the signers of the brief are not parties in the hearing before the court.

The Federal Court of Appeals stayed the subpoena pending its decision on the appeal. A three-judge panel is expected to hear the case in mid-July. A decision is expected shortly thereafter.

The brief was prepared by the entertainment law firm of Donaldson & Callif working pro bono. It was filed because if upheld in the Court of Appeal, such a broad subpoena would have far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences on documentary filmmakers’ ability to not only acquire the statements they need from confidential sources, but also to protect through anonymity those who come forward to tell their stories, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City will rule on the decision of the lower federal court that granted Chevron’s request forcing Berlinger to hand over the footage. Attorney Michael C. Donaldson will attend the hearing, which will be held on July 14, 2010.

From Redford’s letter:

Filmmakers like Joe Berlinger fulfill a crucial role in today’s society by providing independent information on pressing contemporary human rights and social issues. Their success as storytellers depends on access to those men and women willing to talk on camera. If the subjects of those documentaries are fearful of the ramifications of telling the truth then the filmmaker has no story.

Without a shield law, there is no recognized journalist/filmmaker/source protection, creating the very scenario we have now. The judges in this case must recognize this is first and foremost a first amendment issue. The higher courts need to overturn the decision and adhere to higher standards of journalistic privilege.

If we allow the voice of the independent artist to be stifled we should expect nothing less than extreme repercussions for freedom of information…and freedom in general.

© 2016 Filmmaker Magazine
All Rights Reserved
A Publication of IPF