Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger declared a likely “limited victory” in his case against Chevron today. Berlinger made the remarks while speaking briefly with indieWIRE outside a Lower Manhattan courtroom immediately following this morning’s U.S. Appeals Court hearing in his case against the oil company. A verdict in Berlinger’s case, which may come as early as this week, could require that the filmmaker release to Chevron some of the footage shot for his 2009 film, “Crude: The Real Price of Oil.”
A court order to release some of Berlinger’s footage would be contrary to the growing chorus by filmmakers and journalists who have risen in support of Berlinger and his rights to retain all of his footage and outtakes.
“While I certainly don’t want to call the game early and want to await the actual decision, it seems the court today was sympathetic to our primary concern about narrowing the amount of footage to be produced and making sure it is put under some kind of protective order,” Berlinger said in a statement this afternoon, “So, my fingers are crossed for a favorable decision.”
Last month, Berlinger was granted a stay in the wake of an appeal of a recent verdict that ordered he hand over 600+ hours of footage to Chevron, which is facing a local trial that could result in the corporation paying billions of dollars in damages in the wake of an oil spill in Ecuador.
Berlinger’s film tracks a case brought against Chevron for damages caused by the spill and its aftermath and the corporation is trying to gain access to the film’s footage to defend itself, and individual lawyers, against claims.
A standing room only audience, including rainforest activist Trudie Styler (wife of rock musician Sting), filled the ninth floor courtroom in front of three judges for this morning’s hearing that lasted about ninety minutes.
During today’s hearing, Berlinger’s attorney argued that compelling Berlinger to release hundreds of hours of footage would have a chilling effect on journalism and filmmaking. It would cause sources to dry up if, after the fact, footage and source material can be released in this manner.
In rebuttals, Chevron’s lawyer and counsel for others who support the release of Berlinger’s footage argued that outtakes not included in Berlinger’s film could be relevant to the case that the corporation and others are currently defending in Ecuador’s court system.
As they listened to the arguments from both sides, the three judges interceded and began to discuss releasing certain types of footage to Chevron. Berlinger’s attorney’s said that they could agree to such a request if it came with specific restrictions and limitations.
At the end of the hearing, the Chevron attorney left the courtroom with a big smile and shook the hands of colleagues as they congratulated him.
Following right behind, Berlinger and his team seemed pleased with the direction things were heading. Berlinger reiterated to indieWIRE that a release of some footage, with restrictions, would be “a limited win” for his team.
The verdict in the case could come this week, according to a number of courtroom observers.
EDITORS NOTE: This story was updated after publication to include a statement issues by Joe Berlinger this afternoon.