Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movie Industry, Media Outlets Line Up Against Chevron Over Film Battle

Chevron's latest legal maneuver to avoid its potential $27.3 billion liability for illegal dumping in Ecuador's rainforest is startling. The company is now trying to violate the 1st Amendment rights of filmmaker Joe Berlinger by forcing him to turn over more than 600 hours of private video outtakes from his film Crude. But Chevron's actions have not gone unnoticed, and virtually every major U.S. media company – and dozens of luminaries – have come to Berlinger's defense, asking the courts to stop Chevron's abuses. Take a look at the press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition explaining the issue below:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Academy of Motion Pictures Join Filmmaker In Showdown with Chevron over Ecuador Footage

Robert Redford, Bill Moyers, Mikhail Gorbachev, Trudie Styler Also Line Up Against Oil Giant In Legal Battle
Key First Amendment Case Attracts Wide Attention

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at 703-798-3109 or karen [at]

New York, NY – Leonardo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have joined forces with celebrated filmmaker Joe Berlinger as he faces a key legal showdown Wednesday with Chevron over its attempt to access 600 hours of private video footage from the film CRUDE that documents the oil giant's massive environmental contamination of Ecuador's Amazon.

"The battle lines have been drawn between a major oil company accused of human rights abuses and the rights of the journalistic and artistic communities to expose corporate misconduct," said Ilann Maazel, who represents 30,000 rainforest plaintiffs who have sued Chevron for discharging billions of gallons of toxic waste onto their ancestral lands.

"Chevron committed wrongdoing in the Amazon with an environmental impact far worse than that the BP disaster," said Maazel. "This case is about Chevron's use of ill-gotten profits to intimidate a filmmaker who captured the company's misconduct on tape.'

A federal appeals court in New York will hear arguments Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. over a decision by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in May that ordered Berlinger to turn over to Chevron his entire body of outtakes from CRUDE, or roughly 600 hours of footage. Kaplan's decision has been met with widespread criticism as hundreds of journalists, actors, filmmakers, and writers – many of them Academy Award winners – have joined virtually every major U.S. media company in supporting Berlinger.

The list of notables reads like a "Who's Who" of the arts and journalist communities, including Redford, Bill Moyers, Norman Lear, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Trudie Styler in addition to DiCaprio and Allen.

Also supporting Berlinger are three dozen of the largest media companies in America, including The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, Dow Jones, the Associated Press, HBO, the Washington Post, the Hearst Newspapers, the Daily News, and the Gannett Company. The media companies filed a brief in which they noted that Chevron seeks to subpoena the "largest amount of film outtakes" in American history.

Also backing Berlinger are the Sundance Institute, the Director's Guild of America, the Writer's Guild of America, the International Documentary Association, the Tribeca Film Institute, Latino Public Broadcasting, and the Center for Asian American Media, among others. In a separate brief, they argued that Kaplan's order will make it "nearly impossible for filmmakers who report on controversial issues to obtain candid interviews."

A letter from the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it fears Kaplan's decision "could have far-reaching, potentially devastating consequences ... for the bond of trust between journalist and subject..." Redford wrote in The Huffington Post that the "potential ramifications of [Kaplan's decision] for the journalist community, film world and society in general are both shocking and profound."

Gorbachev, a Nobel Prize Laureate, released a letter from the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace Foundation (where CRUDE won a major award last year) that said Kaplan's ruling endangers "independent documentary filmmaking and the work of investigative journalists everywhere."

For its part, Chevron has attracted the support of Dole – a company that like Chevron faces accusations that it committed crimes and violated human rights abroad by exposing banana field workers to toxic chemicals. Dole, represented by the same U.S. law firm as Chevron, had previously sued a Swedish documentary filmmaker who investigated and documented the pesticide poisoning of Dole workers in Nicaragua.

Berlinger shot CRUDE, which won 22 festival awards and premiered at Sundance, between 2005 and 2008. The film chronicles three years of the Ecuador trial phase of the 17-year legal battle between indigenous groups and Chevron. The case against Chevron is considered the largest environmental class action in the world; damages are estimated at up to $27.3 billion.

Berlinger is arguing that his footage is covered by First Amendment privileges that safeguard the ability of reporters and filmmakers to play their traditional watchdog role to expose corporate and governmental abuse. Chevron claims Berlinger's footage is likely to contain evidence of misconduct that can help in its defense.

Chevron's pursuit of the footage is a "sideshow" meant to intimidate journalists and distract shareholder attention from the company's enormous liability for illegal dumping in Ecuador, lawyers for the indigenous and farmer communities suing the company said.

"Chevron's management is now trying to run over the Constitution just like it ran over the rights of indigenous groups in the Amazon," said Maazel.

Chevron has admitted in court that Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately discharged billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the streams and rivers of Ecuador while it was the exclusive operator of a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990. Evidence before the court indicates that cancer rates and other oil-related diseases in the area where Texaco operated have skyrocketed.