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Joe Berlinger Supported by Documentary Filmmaking Community

An open letter in support of Joe Berlinger and the filmmakers of Crude


Joe Berlinger Supported by Documentary Filmmaking Community

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger

Joe Berlinger
Updated March 08, 2012
As members of the documentary film community, we the undersigned strongly object to the Honorable Judge Lewis A. Kaplan's ruling last week in the case involving our colleague Joe Berlinger, the Chevron Corporation, and Berlinger's 600 hours of raw footage shot during production of his documentary film Crude.

Judge Kaplan sided with Chevron and ruled that Berlinger must turn over all of his raw footage to Chevron for their use in the lawsuit discussed in the film. Berlinger and his legal team plan to appeal the ruling.

In cases such as these involving access to a journalist's work material, whether they involve a newspaper or online reporter, a radio interviewer, a television news producer, or a documentary filmmaker, it is understood that First Amendment protection of the journalist's privilege is never absolute. Typically, if such privilege is successfully rebutted in court, a turn-over order demanding a document or other thing is issued and the journalist must comply or face the consequences. Therefore, it is astounding to us that Judge Kaplan demanded that all of the footage shot during the production of the film be handed over to the attorneys of Chevron, given that the privilege exists primarily to protect against the wholesale exposure of press files to litigant scrutiny.

While we commend Judge Kaplan for stating "that the qualified journalists' privilege applies to Berlinger's raw footage", we are nonetheless dismayed both by Chevron's attempts to go on a "fishing expedition" into the edit rooms and production offices of a fellow documentary filmmaker without any particular cause or agenda, and the judge's allowance of said intentions. What's next, phone records and e-mails?

At the heart of journalism lies the trust between the interviewer and his or her subject. Individuals who agree to be interviewed by the news media are often putting themselves at great risk, especially in the case of television news and documentary film where the subject's identity and voice are presented in the final report. If witnesses sense that their entire interviews will be scrutinized by attorneys and examined in courtrooms they will undoubtedly speak less freely. This ruling surely will have a crippling effect on the work of investigative journalists everywhere, should it stand.

Though many of us work independently of large news organizations, we nevertheless hold ourselves to the highest of journalistic standards in the writing, producing, and editing of our films. In fact, as traditional news media finds itself taking fewer chances due to advertiser fears and corporate ownership, the urgency of bold, groundbreaking journalism through the documentary medium is perhaps greater than ever.

This case offers a clear and compelling argument for more vigorous federal shield laws to protect journalists and their work, better federal laws to protect confidential sources, and stronger standards to prevent entities from piercing the journalists' privilege. We urge the higher courts to overturn this ruling to help ensure the safety and protection of journalists and their subjects, and to promote a free and vital press in our nation and around the world.

Patrick Creadon, Los Angeles, CA

Doug Blush, Los Angeles, CA

Eddie Schmidt, President, International Documentary Association (IDA)

With the support of IDA's Board of Directors: Adam Chapnick, Beth Bird, Bob Niemack, Brian Gerber, Gilda Brasch, Laurie Ann Schag, Marjan Safinia, Moises Velez, Pi Ware, Sara Hutchison, Seanain Kheshgi, Steven Reich, Sue West, Thomas Miller, Executive Director Michael Lumpkin

abd Supporting Filmmakers: Alex Gibney, Michael Moore, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Bruce Sinofsky, Joan Churchill, Rob Epstein, Barbara Kopple, AJ Schnack, Kirby Dick, Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Freida Mock, Terry Sanders, Marina Zenovich, Tia Lessin, Carl Deal, Kevin Macdonald, Ken Burns, Haskell Wexler, Ellen Kuras, Robby Kenner, Elise Pearlstein

Davis Guggenheim, Lesley Chilcott, Rory Kennedy, Jeff Blitz, Laura Poitras, Marshall Curry, Ross Kauffman, Adam Del Deo, Hubert Sauper, Adam Hyman, Richard Pearce, R.J. Cutler, Sam Pollard, Jessica Yu, Nick Broomfield, Morgan Neville, Peter Gilbert, Steve James, Louie Psihoyos, Lucy Walker, Pamela Yates

Morgan Spurlock, Bill Moyers, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Tom Weinberg, Joel Cohen, Kate Amend, Anne Makepeace, Evangeline Griego, David Zeiger, Chris Paine, Greg Barker, Skip Blumberg, Brian Strause, Joe Angio, Ben Shedd, Brian Oakes, Dallas Rexer, John Maringouin, Jeff Malmberg, David Van Taylor

Liz Garbus, Cara Mertes, Simon Kilmurry, Cynthia Wade, Stefan Forbes,Jennifer Venditti, Peter Kinoy, Tom Putnam, Jessie Deeter, Robin Hessman, Paco de Onis, Kim Longinotto, Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Sean Welch, Steven Ascher, Jeanne Jordan, Kevin Walsh, Christine O'Malley, Theodore James, Tomlinson Holman, Paola Di Florio, Martin Smith

Diane Weyermann, Jehane Noujaim, Leon Gast, Bill Guttentag, Steven Okazaki, Peter Davis, Michael Tucker, Gabor Kalman, Andrew Goldberg, Eva Orner, Christoph Baaden, Mark Lewis, Annie Roney, Petra Epperlein, Christopher Quinn, Amy Berg, Douglas Chang, Tina DiFeliciantonio, Jane C. Wagner

James Longley, James Marsh, Yance Ford, Lisa Rich, Tony Gerber, Amy Ziering, Kurt Norton, Amanda Micheli, B. Ruby Rich, Amir Bar-Lev, Jon Else, Judy Branfman, Lucy Phenix, Mike Tollin, Paul Mariano, Jay Rosenblatt, Johanna Demetrakas, Kristine Samuelson, John Haptas

Robert Greenwald, Terry Zwigoff, Laura Gabbert, Matt Tyrnauer, Anna Thomas, Doug Block, Ken Schneider, Gary Cohen, Peter Gerard, Nathan Truesdell, Chris Smith, Bob Richman, Sandy McLeod, Judith Katz, Paul Rachman, Hilari Scarl, Jonathan Stack, Shirley Moyers, Andrew Berends

Lynne Littman, Mark J Harris, Thom Powers, Lauren Greenfield, Theodore Braun, Mary Ann Braubach, Frederick Gerten, Seth Gordon, Celia Maysles, Buddy Squires, Jon Alpert, Matthew O'Neill, Henry Alex Rubin, Rick Goldsmith, Bob Hercules, Jim Morrissette, Howard Weinberg, Judith Helfand, Andrew Garrison, Rebecca Chaiklin, Doug Pray, Katy Chevigny, Sarah Gibson, Daniel Junge, Ted Hope

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