Documentary Filmmaker Joe Berlinger Under Fire

Earlier this month, a major blow was dealt to documentary filmmakers' and journalists' First Amendment rights. On May 6, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan



of a motion by the Chevron oil company subpoenaing 600 hours of footage of


, which exposes the corporate malfeasance and massive environmental negligence of oil behemoth Texaco (later purchased by the multinational corporation Chevron) in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Despite the documentary's impressive neutrality, the oil company, which had more than a decade ago fought to have the 17-year-old case moved to Ecuador for a more fair trial, is now back in U.S. courts attempting to gain access to Berlinger's raw footage in order to defend itself against the $27 billion dollar class-action lawsuit. Rather than ask for a narrow request of specific footage, Chevron's lawyers have asked for all 600 hours to go on what Berlinger calls

against plaintiff's attorney Steven Donziger. According to

The Wall Street Journal


show that Chevron also intends to try to discredit Ecuadorian court-appointed, independent expert Richard Cabrera with the footage. Filmmakers and writers have rallied around Berlinger. A

signed by 200 documentarians, including Alex Gibney, Michael Moore, D.A. Pennebaker, Bruce Sinofsky, Barbara Kopple, Nick Broomfield, Morgan Spurlock, Ken Burns, and Haskell Wexler, appeared in the May 12

New York Times

. The

has also put its support behind Berlinger. Ignoring his first handover deadline, on May 20,

that Berlinger had 10 days before deciding whether or not to hand over his footage to Chevron. Last Friday, the

that it will hear Berlinger's appeal on June 8.