The Maryland Film Festival has postponed its annual fundraiser from January 21 to March 11. But Meredith Vieira (right) will still moderate a panel of award-winning directors. And the question they will consider -- "Are Documentary Filmmakers the New Journalists?" -- has never been more pertinent.

The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff has reported a federal appeal court ruling "that Joe Berlinger, a filmmaker who was ordered to hand over footage from his 2009 documentary 'Crude' to the Chevron Corporation, cannot invoke a journalist's privilege in refusing to do so because his work does not constitute an act of independent reporting."

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From the outside you might wonder: How could a documentary not be "an act of independent reporting" and still rest on footage deemed critical for a court case?

Here's the background, as stated by Itzkoff: "Mr. Berlinger's film chronicles a lawsuit brought by a group of Ecuadoreans who say that the Lago Agrio oil field — initially run by Texaco, which Chevron now owns — polluted their water supply, and he has been locked in a legal battle against Chevron for months."

Chevron contends (in Itzkoff's words) that the material they've asked for "would show an improper collaboration between the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Ecuadorean lawsuit and an expert appointed by the Ecuadorean court as a neutral party."

The judges wrote that because "Berlinger's making of the film was solicited by the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio litigation for the purpose of telling their story, and that changes to the film were made at their instance [including the deletion of a scene with the neutral expert meeting with the plaintiffs and their lawyers], Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for the purpose of independent reporting and commentary."

The judges are criticizing the "independent" part of Berlinger's "independent reporting." But don't practitioners of advocacy journalism, too, have any right to protect their data under the law?

It's something I'll be sure to ask the panel on March 11 -- if by then, Berlinger and his lawyers haven't already clarified that point.

For Itzkoff's complete article, click here. The new details for the MFF event:

TICKETS: $250 (All-Access)/ $90 (Conversation and Reception)

6:00 PM: Doors Open for All Ticket Holders Wine/Beer (provided by The Wine Source) and hors d'oeuvres - Brown Center

7:30 PM: Short Auction (Special Movie Related Items)

Conversation with filmmaker guests, moderated by Meredith Vieira

9:00 PM: Dinner/Dessert reception with filmmaker guests for All-Access Pass Holders

Call 410.752.8083 to order.

Photo of Meredith Vieira by William D. Bird

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