Chevron demands "Crude" filmmaker hand over footage


Oil giant Chevron wants documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over hundreds of hours of raw footage he shot for his documentary film on pollution in the Amazon rainforest. Chevron's lawyers say they want the material because it may be helpful in lawsuits that accuse the company of damaging the environment in Ecuador. Berlinger's past films include Paradise Lost and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. He says he was recently served with a request from Chevron for more than 600 hours of unused footage for his 2009 documentary Crude, which you can purchase here on DVD. Trailer here.

* Meanwhile, off the coast of Louisiana...



  1. Thanks for the post. It should note that Berlinger & his lawyers have vowed to “vigorously” resist Chevron’s subpoena and have filed a motion with the court to oppose discovery.

    In remarks to’s documentary blog, Berlinger said:
    “Our opposition has nothing to do with Chevron’s position regarding issues raised in the lawsuit depicted in the film, but rather represents our concern about this as an unnecessary breach of our First Amendment rights — not only as they pertain to Crude, but also with long term implications for investigative documentary filmmaking, which represents a singularly important form of in-depth reporting in the contemporary media forum.”

    Besides the 1st Amendment issue, this is another example of Chevron attempting to harass and intimidate anyone who would look unflinchingly at the company’s toxic legacy in Ecuador’s Amazon, as Berlinger’s ‘Crude’ does.

    Berlinger will face off with Chevron in Federal court in NY on Friday, April 30th.

  2. Surely they don’t actually need the raw footage. And I can’t see any judge seriously allowing this kind of harassment without fair reimbursement.

    So charge them the cost of making a copy, make the copy, and then hand over the copy. If their argument has any merit, then they should be happy with a copy, and they should be happy to pay for the trouble.

    1. Don’t even send them a copy; send them an Amazon link.

      FYI: “Crude” is also on Netflix streaming. One of the ones I’ve been meaning to get to.

  3. I just took action calling on Chevron’s board members to step up & clean up Ecuador at:

    After watching this documentary it’s impossible not to. The indigenous communities taking on Chevron are an inspiration.

    Seems to me this is just another desperate delay tactic from a corporation avoiding accountability. Shocking they are willing to to throw out 1st amendment rights under the bus to do so. well maybe not that shocking, it is Chevron.

  4. Somewhere in this world, there exists at least one person working at a company like this, who’s job and/or big-fat-yearly-bonus-checque hangs in the balance. They are tasked with suppressing negative opinion about the company: if they succeed the company looks good and they keep their bonus/job. I pity those poor bastards.

  5. So is this “surrender your only copy of this footage, making none” or is it “we want a copy”? The linked article is ambiguous.

    Because honestly I see nothing wrong with the latter; it’s a lot of data that would indeed probably be pretty useful in the kinds of cases they say they want it for. Pay him for the media and his time and trouble to dupe it, no biggie.

    (Assuming it’s all shot on digital.)

  6. Happily remaining anonymous for this, but I know Chevron has teams w/ interns, etc. working 9 to 5 daily on the Ecuador case. It’s a big business. The people that work on it from the Chevron end are not evil people in the least. Indeed they wrestle with the paycheck vs ethics debate often. The people on the ground who worked for Texaco were working with the Ecuadorian state oil company. Texaco got bought up by Chevron… all of these things were shuffled around… blame and responsibility being the main ones.

    The levels of pollution surrounding oil production seem to skip by all of us ‘first world’ folks as we type on our plastic keys, driving gasoline powered cars, flying jet fuel powered jets and washing our stuff with petroleum derived detergents. It’s an extremely interconnected situation, often running across all sorts of legal lines.

    Much like Henry Louis Gates recent op-ed about slave reparations… the blame is… really hard to pinpoint, let alone properly punish.

    Let’s help the people living there who need help lead better lives. I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t like being an apologist, but the money and time being spent on both sides of this issue could be put to better use.

    For fairness, here’s the corporate site/side of the argument:

    1. The people that work on it from the Chevron end are not evil people in the least.

      You’re probably right but they do bad things and in the end that’s all that matters.

  7. This is a tempest in a teapot. It’s called a “non-party request to produce documents.” You can get a subpoena if the non-party refuses to turn over evidence, which basically just packs the court’s power.

    This is in no way a First Amendment issue. Chevron is just involved in some lawsuits and would like to use the footage to defend itself somehow.

    Non-parties ALWAYS get paid their fair copying costs. Transferring 600 hours of footage to DVD is going to be really expensive, so really this filmmaker stands to make a fair bit here.

    If it were me I’d stick it to them with the highest reasonable copying costs I could come up with (based on market pricing), then use *their* money to promote the film.

    Ironic that.

  8. Corporate harassment, of course.

    If Chevron was concerned about the damage they inflicted, they should have kept their own records.

    That said, watch the courts fold like a cheap suit. They almost always do.

    1. Anon, if Chevron were keeping records of a filmmaker’s interviews with plaintiffs in a lawsuit and government officials, I think that would have been rather worse than this request.

      Personally, I don’t see how this isn’t just the unsurprising practice of trying to subpoena everything relating to case, regardless of whether the subpoena is reasonable or not. Chevron is in the wrong, and almost certainly won’t get what they want, but they probably didn’t expect to.

  9. As a documentary filmmaker, I find this quite frightening. Chervron is on a fishing expedition, hoping to find material to discredit its detractors. Documentary makers, myself included, go to great lengths to ensure that our films are neither libellous or slanderous. This sometimes means excluding documentary footage that could cause either the filmmaker or the interviewee to be sued. To have a major corporation sort through my outtakes to find footage that would damage the reputation of their plaintiffs is, if nothing else, morally wrong. Filmmakers have every right to cover our own asses. We should also have the right to protect those who help us uncover corporate wrong doing.

  10. Why even keep outtakes? When I worked (briefly) for a management consultancy, it was standard practice to destroy all drafts, raw interview notes, etc. at the end of each project. This was done because the consultant’s job (like the documentary filmmaker’s) involves sifting through reams of materials, some inevitably contradictory to others, to get at the right answer. Keeping contradictory materials around was seen as an invitation to just this sort of fishing expedition.

    1. Why keep outtakes?

      Not every filmmaker does, but those of us who do see the outtakes as having potential historical value. Or the outtakes might simply represent an enormous effort that we don’t want to see erased. I would compare it to a musician with a vault full of recordings that haven’t been released. What value would this music have? Not an easy question to answer.

  11. Didn’t Chevron hire the ‘ACORN’ pimp to film some secret footage as one of its dirty tricks?

  12. I’m a little surprised at some of the more cavalier comments on here about this issue. This move by Chevron is equivalent to suing to get a look at a journalists notes and sources after you don’t like what they wrote about you. Sources and notes are not for sale and must be protected for investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking to mean anything or even be possible at all. End of story.

  13. I think it is far more likely that Chevron is hoping to find something they can use to discredit the filmmaker’s methods or to imply bias on their part. Chevron doesn’t need this footage as part of pretrial discovery, they are well aware of everything they have done.

    I haven’t seen the film yet but there is one statement made by Chevron in the trailer that is obviously a lie. Poor sanitation does lead to water borne transmission of disease, however, cancer is not a transmittable disease. If there has been a sharp rise in cancer rates it is not from poor sanitation practices. Unless you want to include cleaning up the chemical pollution caused by Chevron.

  14. @ Anon # 13
    How does it feel to live in a world that is so simple that there are “right answers” and no “contradictory materials”?

  15. It’s apparent to me that Chevron wants the raw footage to try to find and punish the whistleblowers.

  16. Does anybody actually know the exact legal procedures/counter-procedures which are being used here by both sides. Also I can’t seem to find clarification of the exact terms for both sides. Not only do very subtle details matter in the “legality” of the case, but they also are critical for the larger picture of investigative journalism rights and the rights of different parties in these legal cases. Just curious.

    (Disclaimer- I saw crude at our local documentary film fest, and with plenty of bias against Chevron/Texaco going in.)

  17. A subpoena is a legal request; it can be granted or denied. Berlinger is within his rights to try to defeat the subpoena and is acting on them, which I applaud. That is the way the legal process is supposed to work. The judge’s job is to determine if the material is probitive or not before it’s brought into evidence.

    If the film is directly related to the incidents and involved the plaintiffs then it seems reasonable for Chevron to request the outtakes. Every defendant has rights to see evidence being used against them as one of the founding bases for our legal system. If the footage is from a completely unrelated project, let’s say an incident in Alaska and/or involving a different oil company then it’s not relevant, the subpoena should be squashed and then it’s the filmmaker’s call if they want to supply it.

    Painting a subpoena as an evil demand for the original footage I feel is putting bias in where there likely is none. That is the tool that any person or entity has to use to legally request materials they don’t own. That being said I think under any circumstance the defendant should bear the costs of duplication (film or digital) whe getting materials from an uninvolved third party, and the plaintiffs must also receive a copy so they may do their own due diligence.

  18. This is a very important issue. To learn more about Chevron Texaco’s toxic legacy in Ecuador you can watch a free documentary available here..


  19. “If Chevron was concerned about the damage they inflicted, they should have kept their own records.”

    “It’s apparent to me that Chevron wants the raw footage to try to find and punish the whistleblowers.”

    ^^^This and this.

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