Two veterans of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival were issued subpoenas late last month by multinational energy corporation Chevron, demanding they hand over 600 hours of outtake footage from the documentary "Crude." Officials with the company reportedly believe the footage could reveal misconduct on the part of a group of Ecuadoreans currently suing Chevron over pollution in the Amazon rainforest.
"Crude" Director Joe Berlinger and Producer Mike Bonfiglio appealed the subpoenas, but were shot down by a Federal District Court Judge in New York. The debacle has escalated into a nationwide debate over who qualifies as a journalist and how far protections over their professional property extend. Berlinger and Bonfiglio, who were in Missoula for the 2009 festival screening of "Crude," have in recent weeks gained significant backing from the documentary community in their fight against Chevron. An open letter of support, drafted and circulated by the International Documentary Association, has been signed by prominent figures such as Michael Moore and Bill Moyers.
Meanwhile, Chevron's lawyers have railed against "Crude," a documentary about the long-running Ecuadorean suit, publicly stating that it should not be considered journalism. Berlinger and Bonfiglio refute that claim, standing behind their First Amendment rights and declaring journalistic privilege over their work.