- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - A federal appeals court on Thursday limited the amount of raw footage that a filmmaker must release from his documentary about a legal fight between Chevron and Ecuadoreans over oil contamination.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a two-page order that filmmaker Joseph Berlinger no longer has to give Chevron all 600 hours of raw footage that was used to create “Crude,” a documentary that was released last year.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court said Berlinger must produce only the raw footage that shows lawyers for Ecuadoreans who sued Chevron Corp., private or court-appointed experts in that proceeding and current or former officials of Ecuador’s government.

The appeals court also said the raw footage could be used solely for litigation, arbitration or submission to official bodies, whether they be local or international.

The appeals court heard the case a day earlier after a lower court judge had ordered Berlinger to turn over all his raw footage. Berlinger appealed.

Berlinger said he was “extremely pleased” with the ruling because it substantially limits what must be produced.

“Furthermore, the court has expressly prohibited Chevron from using any footage we do turn over in their public relations campaigns, a goal that was extremely important to me,” he said. “The courts have affirmed that documentary filmmakers are journalists deserving of First Amendment protection.”

Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro said he also was “extremely pleased” with the appeals court ruling and that it came quickly so Chevron can obtain the evidence “to defend against a travesty of justice in Ecuador.”

He said plaintiffs’ counsel who sued Chevron were on screen in the film more than 70 percent of the time “so the outtakes are likely to be similarly dominated by them and all of that footage now has to be produced.”

Karen Hinton, who represents lawyers for the Ecuadoreans, strongly disagreed with the court’s decision.

“This ruling undermines investigative journalism during a time when more aggressive inquiry is sorely needed in the oil industry,” she said.

The lawsuit in Ecuador stems from a 17-year-old legal fight. Ecuadoreans say their land was contaminated during three decades of oil exploration and extraction by Texaco Inc., which became a wholly owned subsidiary of San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron Corp. in 2001.

Chevron says the raw footage will help bolster its case that lawyers for the plaintiffs have worked to manipulate the judicial system in Ecuador for their own benefit.

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