NEW YORK (Reuters) - A filmmaker must turn over to Chevron Corp parts of raw footage from a documentary he made on the 17-year-old legal fight over oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York is the result of months of legal wrangling by "Crude" filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who argued the footage was protected by his status as a journalist.
Berlinger said in a statement that he was "extremely pleased" with the court's order because it "substantially limited" the amount of footage he will have to give Chevron.
A trial level judge ruled in May that Berlinger should hand over all 600 hours of raw footage of the film to the oil company, and Berlinger appealed.
The appeals court judges ruled that Chevron would only get select footage directly concerning the litigation or that includes Ecuadorean officials.
"Crude," which was released in 2009 to critical acclaim, chronicles the oil production and legal fights in Ecuador's Amazon rain forest. Indigenous communities accused Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, of damaging their health and the rain forest by polluting rivers.
The main lawsuit was first brought in 1993 by Amazon farmers and residents. Chevron, which faces potential liability of $27 billion, says the claim against it is without merit.
In a statement on Thursday, the company said it was eager to move forward with the matter.
"We have already seen instances of collusion and fraud on the part of plaintiffs' lawyers in portions of Crude that have been publicly released," Chevron said. "We are confident that review of the outtakes will reveal additional instances of misconduct."
Lawyers for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs rejected Chevron's allegations of their misconduct in Ecuador.
"The plaintiffs are thankful the court did not allow Chevron to obtain footage of the people who have suffered from Texaco's extensive contamination of their land and Chevron's efforts to cover it up," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Of the footage the court has allowed, Chevron will be extremely disappointed."
In one scene, an attorney for the plaintiffs describes using pressure tactics on an Ecuadorean judge to get a favorable ruling.
"This is something you would never do in the United States, but Ecuador, you know, this is how the game is played. It's dirty," lawyer Steven Donziger explains in the film.
Chevron asked for a subpoena in April to obtain all of the footage.
Reporting by Basil Katz and Grant McCool; editing by Andre Grenon, Gary Hill