NEW YORK (Reuters) - A filmmaker must turn over to Chevron Corp key 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.
Chevron says the footage contains evidence of plaintiffs’ misconduct and it hopes presenting the outtakes in court will help get the case against it thrown out.
A U.S. district judge ruled in May that Berlinger should hand over all 600-hours of raw footage of the film to Chevron. Berlinger appealed.
On Thursday, the judges ruled that Chevron would only get select footage directly concerning the litigation or that includes Ecuadorean officials.
Randy Mastro, an attorney for Chevron and Maura Wogan, who represents Berlinger, were not immediately available to comment on the ruling.
“Crude,” which was released last year 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 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.
This and other scenes got Chevron’s attention, leading it to subpoena Berlinger in April for all of the footage in the hope it could help the company get the 17-year-old lawsuit dismissed.
Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Andre Grenon