Environmental Film Disaster, A Case for First Amendment Rights or Past Regrets?

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Award winning film producer Joseph Berlinger made a documentary entitled Crude, which followed the case brought against Texaco by a group of civilians who allege that the oil exploration and drilling conducted by Texaco, now owned by Chevron, in Ecuador polluted the rain forest and contaminated their drinking water. The film received rave reviews at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, but it got far more attention than Berlinger ever anticipated.

The film, in its initial screening, contained what might have seemed a harmless scene of a “supposedly” neutral court expert participating in a meeting with the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Even though this scene was subsequently edited out of its theatrical and DVD versions, Chevron became aware of its implications and served Berlinger with a subpoena for the rest of his unused footage. Chevron stated that the footage was evidence of corruption in Ecuador’s justice system in violation of an international treaty with the US and the American Convention on Civil Rights for due process, and showed improper conduct by plaintiff’s counsel with court and government officials which was important to Chevron’s case.

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