About kevin

Website: http://artsmediasummit.wordpress.com
kevin has written 8 articles so far, you can find them below.

Decision Forces Filmmaker to Turn Over 600 Hours of Footage to Chevron

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Federal District Court in New York granted Chevron’s request for a subpoena, which demands access to over 600 hours of footage from “Crude,” a documentary that chronicles a legal battle being supported by 30,000 Amazonian settlers hoping to hold Texaco (now owned by Chevron) responsible for environmental devastation in Ecuador.

Joseph Berlinger, the filmmaker behind “Crude,” claimed he was protected by “journalistic privilege,” but, according to the New York Times, he qualified for the privilege but “the conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met” by Chevron.

Berlinger plans to ask the judge to “stay the subpoena” so the decision can be appealed.

Many in the documentary filmmaking community have indicated that they will support Berlinger’s effort to appeal and resist this decision. Filmmakers understand what this decision could mean for the future of documentary filmmaking.

Gordon Quinn, artistic director and founder of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, said, “My experience is that the ‘outs’ of a film usually show the big and the powerful to be worse than they are portrayed in our films, but if we have to turn over footage and spend time in court and defend ourselves for expressing our First Amendment rights it can be an overwhelming burden for a small organization like ours.”

Quinn added, “It has the feel of intimidation and using the legal process to let us know don’t take on the big guys or they can drive you crazy and drain your resources by tying you up in court.”

Documentary instructor at Columbia College Chicago and director of “The Return of Navajo Boy,” a film that touched upon the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo, Jeff Spitz, had not heard about it. He noted from his experience making “Navajo Boy, “The extraction industries have absolutely no interest in the safety and/or benefits of their work for indigenous people. Indigenous people pay the hidden price of our energy.”

An Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with forty years of documentary filmmaking experience, Russell Porter, reacted, “The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment.”

“The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism,” said Porterin fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.”

New York Times writer for the ArtsBeat Blog diligently followed this story conducting interviews with filmmakers Michael Moore and Ric Burns (the director of “Andy Warhol” and PBS’ “New York”) on Thursday.

Burns reacted, Chevron is “really saying ‘O.K., pal, drop your drawers, and with it, 600 hours of film.'” And added, “That’s insane. That’s a weapon so blunt that it’s impossible not to feel that Judge Kaplan doesn’t care about the impression that is conveyed.”

Burns added this “contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism” and next time someone goes to make a “Crude” the group that provides information on the subject will be a “much leerier group of informants.”

Michael Moore had “never heard of such a ruling.” Moore told the ArtsBeat Blog he never had to deal with any corporation suing him to find out how he gathered his information.

“Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom,” said Moore.

Moore hoped the decision would be overturned on appeal and, if not, Berlinger should “resist the subpoena.” He also said that “hundreds of filmmakers” would support Berlinger’s fight to not turn over his footage to Chevron.

Documentary as Journalism?

The New York Times put together an article that suggested this decision re-ignites a debate over whether a documentary filmmaker should have journalistic privileges or not.

In his interview with ArtsBeat Blog, Moore said, “Documentaries are a form of journalism.”

The lawyer for Chevron, Randy M. Mastro, according to the New York Times, firmly believes that “Crude” should not be considered journalism. And, Mastro claimed that this decision is not about “the First Amendment” or journalistic privilege.

Mastro said, “This is about a plaintiffs’ lawyer who decided he wanted to star in a movie and gave a sympathetic filmmaker extraordinary access to the plaintiffs’ case and strategy.”

Porter said of this statement, “The cynical dismissal of the film “Crude” as ‘…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star’ would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue.”

A key problem is the fact that documentary filmmakers are expected to have subjects sign releases that they agree to appear in the film. With “Crude,” pact agreements were actually formed between the filmmaker and the settlers and those agreements would clearly be violated if Chevron was able to use the footage for their own agenda.

What are documentary filmmakers supposed to do in the future if this stands? What will filmmakers need to look out for and do to protect themselves? What additional amount of self-censorship will filmmakers have to engage in?

Will filmmakers have to begin to destroy all of their footage that they have left over once their film is complete? How are filmmakers going to handle a reality where corporations can force filmmakers to compromise their sources and turn over unused footage to them?

At a time where BP is responsible for the leaking of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, what should those documenting the destruction be weary of if a precedent is set that corporations like Chevron can subpoena unused footage to take down plaintiffs who are challenging business practices and suggesting corporations should be held responsible or accountable for their actions?

There are many more questions about the ramifications of this decision on filmmaking. The issue of journalistic privilege and documentary should be the subject of conversation for the next months especially if filmmakers unite and mount a visible effort in support of Berlinger’s right to not hand over the footage to Chevron.


The following is Associate Professor of Columbia College Chicago and documentary filmmaker Russell Porter’s full response to the decision.

I am an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with almost forty years experience as a documentary filmmaker, journalist and teacher on five continents. I have extensive experience of working with indigenous people and their struggles to maintain their traditional ways of life in the face of ever more destructive encroachment by extractive and environmentally damaging industries.

I first visited the upper Amazon region of Ecuador in 1969-70 when I lived and traveled through the then pristine Amazon regions bordering the Napo River, and was privileged to visit several indigenous communities (including the Huaorani/ Waorani and Achuar people).

I returned to the region on a research trip in 1999 to see for myself how this unique world had changed during my lifetime. I was appalled buy what my Huaorani hosts showed me as a result of the impact of oil exploration and extraction on their health and environment. I traveled with them to several sites that were at least as damaged by oil spills and dumps (in “piscinas”) like those shown in the film “Crude” – which, in my my view, if anything understates the impact on the culture, environment and the ecosystems that have sustained these communities for millennia.

The Huaorani community I visited (in the remote Shiripuni region) had been forced to relocate there since their traditional homeland had become unsustainable as a result of the massive intrusion of oil industry machinery and associated contamination and deforestation. I also visited the regions around Lago Agrio featured in the film, and witnessed the total transformation that the oil industry has cause to the environment integrity, health and well-being of traditional indigenous people there, with the associated often violent social destruction of their way of life.

The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment. The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism – in fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.

Without such scrutiny, It is my opinion that the ever-increasing corporate malfeasance would go unchecked, to the detriment of society as a whole. It is an intrinsic facet of our democratic system that such independent scrutiny is allowed the full protection of the law.

The cynical dismissal of the film “Crude” as “…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star” would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue.

Documentary filmmakers of course have the right to include, structure and interpret their raw material in any way they chose – just as a journalist will draw on his or her research notes to compile a coherent narrative story. Film material is edited in just this way, and for whatever reason some footage may be left out, it remains the intellectual property of the filmmaker and he or she is under no obligation to hand it over to anyone. It is a right – just as that held by journalists – protected under the First Amendment. Whatever the legality of the case against Chevron, the principle is unchanged.

Also posted on OpEdNews.com.

Greenwald Provides Students Insight into Documentary Filmmaking

In the Ferguson Theater at Columbia College Chicago on May 6th, documentary filmmaker and founder of Brave New Films, Robert Greenwald, participated in a live streaming discussion following a screening of “Rethink Afghanistan.”

Greenwald explained why the concept of Brave New Theaters was developed and talked about how it had revolutionized how filmmakers distribute their films. He cautioned that while this does help filmmakers set up screenings and make people aware of their film it does not guarantee an automatic audience.

Greenwald talked about “Rethink Afghanistan” and his other films may have catalyzed audiences to take action.

When asked where the story of the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan was at right now, he provided into the situation by saying that you do not truly grasp that this is the third poorest country in the world until you get off the plane and walk around with the people.

Greenwald shared a story about how Flip cameras are being given to Afghanis so that they can document their story. He mentioned that doing this is very cost-efficient for an organization that may be strapped for cash.

And, that's why the media isn't covering the war in Afghanistan as much as it should be. The story is not in the news regularly because news have cut back on the use of foreign correspondents or investigative reporters.

Greenwald got into this and opened up on why students might not be organizing against the war as they did during the Vietnam War (“The draft”). He also said in terms of pushing the political elites to tune into the subject and rethink the war emphasizing that the war does not make America or Afghanistan safer.

The security argument, according to Greenwald, was one that needs to be consistently made because a country might spend any amount of money on a conflict if it is perceived that the war is keeping the country safe, but if it can be proven that it is not, then you create an opening for ending the conflict.

While the film was released in 2009, the work that is being done with this film continues. Outreach and engagement is why this film continues to pick up fans.

Here's a video that Greenwald put together for Mother's Day.

Fundraiser for ISDC at Viaduct Theater a Success

Collage of photos from the International Student Documentary Competition (ISDC)

Last Sunday, May 2nd, Viva Doc and a Documentary Post-Production Team class at Columbia College Chicago held a fundraiser at the Viaduct Theater for the International Student Documentary Competition (ISDC), which will be held in October of this year.

The fundraiser called “World Shorts” provided an opportunity for the competition to raise prize money for the competition. It began at 8 pm and went past midnight offering those in attendance an opportunity to hear four bands play music.

The bands that participated — Gentlemen’s Guild, The Midwestern, Pet Peeve, and Jon Drake & the Shakes — graciously volunteered to participate and support the fundraiser. Each played at least twenty to thirty minutes of music.

A drummer from The Midwestern said, to paraphrase, playing the fundraiser was the most fun I had playing a show in years.

Without the bands, the fundraiser would not have succeeded. The bands are why people came into the venue and paid a $10 cover to get into the event.

Documentary filmmaker Mitch Wenkus, a senior at Columbia who helped plan the event, explained that the bands brought many faces to the event and people who are outside the Viva Documentary circle.

Wenkus thought that following of the bands came to the event and became interested in documentary.

In addition to organizing bands, Viva Doc and the documentary class collected raffle items, which were donated by businesses like Music Box, Odd Obsession, Reckless Records, Strange Cargo, Uncle Fun, Women & Children First Bookstore, and more. And, a silent auction with items like a a Kartemquin DVD gift bag, prints signed by Cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, Facets Multi-Media DVDs, Jim Derogatis’ book “Milk It,” a Short Film Brigade goodie bag, which were all donated to the auction.

Some of the students involved in the fundraiser even chose to offer their talents in the auction. Attendees were able to bid on videography, editing, drawing, and lawn services.

Two M.C.’s, Uncle Art and Uncle Roger, volunteered to host the event. The comedic and musical duo, which perform at bar mitzvahs, weddings, graduations, divorces, and excommunications (as they said numerous times at the event) added an extra element of entertainment to the event that attendees had not expected.

For example, Uncle Art joked, “We’re at the Viaduct. Wanna vi-a-duct?”

Overall, the fundraiser was very successful and raised much of the money needed to fund prizes for the competition.

The Viva Doc ISDC is “a celebration of student filmmakers from around the world” and “students from recognized institutions of higher education with instruction in filmmaking at the undergraduate or graduate level are invited to submit documentaries, which have been completed as course work.”

The ISDC will be taking submissions until June 10th. The website for information on submitting films is VivaDocInternational.org. Organizers encourage you to submit your films to this international competition if you haven’t already.

New Documentary Explores Coca-Cola’s Assassination of Colombian Union Leaders

A post on AlterNet.org details the new documentary, “The Coca-Cola Case,” which “chronicles the relentless efforts of American lawyers trying to take the soft drink giant to court over the killings of 10 union leaders, who represented workers at Coke bottling plants in Colombia.”

The post says of the film:

The documentary splits its time nicely between two battles: the court fight waged by Daniel Kovalik, lawyer for the United Steelworkers union, on behalf of Columbian union members, and the public awareness crusade of Ray Rogers, who directed the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke.

Well-shot and polished, this social justice procedural can sometimes lag — primarily because it relies on talking heads and doesn't delve enough into the lives of Coke workers and those of the brave union activists in Colombia. Of course, the directors — German Guiterrez and Carmen Garcia — would have made many editorial decisions regarding their focus. I just would have appreciated just a little more on the daily struggles of the unionists.

That aside, “The Coca-Cola Case” is a fascinating portrayal of corporate irresponsibility and greed. Kovalik himself is a great character, one who tirelessly pours himself into the cause as he spearheads the legal battle to get compensation for the families of the dead unionists.

For more, click here.

*Here's the trailer:

Chevron Demands Access to Doc Filmmaker’s Footage, Could Have Chilling Effect on Documentary

Documentarian Joe Berlinger, the director of the documentary “Crude,” a film which chronicles the environmental devastation that petroleum companies like Chevron are wreaking in Ecuador, was subpoenaed by Chevron for access to more than 600 hours of footage.

In the story, which appears on TheWrap.com, Berlinger says, “There is a lot at stake here…This is a financial burden for a documentarian to fight this fight. But if Chevron is successful in getting a journalist to turn over a work in process, it will have a chilling effect on this kind of documentary making in future.”

Berlinger also says what Chevron is trying to compel him to do is to violate pacts he made with members of tribes in Ecuador:

“When invited into extremely sensitive situations, there’s a level of trust-building that the filmmaker is going to be responsible with the story he’s telling, and not an expectation that dailies will be handed over to adversaries in litigation.”

Chevron claims that Berlinger may have “unwittingly captured on film other instances of improper collaboration between court experts and the plaintiffs’ representatives that would further demonstrate the illegitimate nature of the entire Lago Agrio trial.”

The Lago Agrio trial is the epic trial against Chevron that “30,000 Amazonian settlers and indigenous people, who call themselves Los Afectados—the Affected Ones” have been waging. It is the trial that is the primary focus of Berlinger's documentary.

For more on Berlinger's battle, click here.

Gordon Quinn, Jerry Temaner Talk Early Kartemquin Films at Columbia

Just over a week ago, Gordon Quinn and Jerry Temaner came to Columbia College to participate in the “Art, Access & Action” Summit at Columbia and talk with documentary students (and others) about documentary filmmaking and how filmmaking and society has changed since the era when great early Kartemquin films like What the Fuck are These Red Squares? and Hum 255 were made.

The discussion featured a screening of What the Fuck are These Red Squares?.

Here's a synopsis of the film:

Striking students meet at a “Revolutionary Seminar” at the Art Institute of Chicago in response to the invasion of Cambodia and the killing of protesting students at Kent and Jackson State Universities. They explore their role as artists in a capitalist society and issue questions like: What are the implications of the artist's elitist position in America? Is it possible not to be co-opted, as “radical” as one's art may be? What are the connections between money and art in America? between the “New York Scene” and the rest of the country?

The conversation was filmed and video of the conversation may be posted on the Viva Documentary website in the near future. For those of you who missed it, the discussion got into how discourse has changed since the 1960s, why students protested during Vietnam and why there aren't many students protesting the wars in the Middle East right now, whether spontaneous conversation like this could be filmed for a documentary in today's world, and whether young people are turned on to the most pressing social and cultural issues of the day.

The conversation was very free-form with Gordon Quinn and Jerry Temaner offering many anecdotes from their experiences as filmmakers throughout the past decades. Both shared memories of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and the fascinating sight of young people at pay phones letting their parents know that they were alright and their parents shouldn't be worried about them (this as shots of police beating young protesters were being shown on television).

Following the early Kartemquin films discussion, Gordon Quinn participated in a talk about fair use, copyright and the commons with accomplished PBS filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein.

The two used the document, “Best Practices in Fair Use”, to go through examples from their experiences as documentary filmmakers. Each example touched on an element of the “Fair Use” document, which is a document for filmmakers which empowers them against those who might suggest they don't have the right to use certain material in their work. “Fair use” allows a filmmaker to “quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it” (in some circumstances). It’s what keeps copyright law from being total censorship.

That conversation was filmed, too. And it will be made available to the public sometime in the not-so-distant future as well.

If you enjoyed these documentary events, please comment on this. And if you would like to see more documentary events at Columbia, stay tuned.

Along with the upcoming International Student Documentary Competition Fundraiser, World Shorts, there are plans in the works.

Would You Like to Document Social Injustice?

Documenting Social Justice is being offered in the Spring 2010 semester.

This is a course that has been offered before and has been revamped. It has been updated so that students can produce media that employs media tools to create social change. 

The course description: 

Documenting Social Injustice* 
Social justice education is both a process and a goal and involves students who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward others and society as a whole. Students become familiar with the range of diversity issues–race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, etc.–through extensive readings and videos. Class tours several sites of ethnic art, activism, and social justice. Students work in teams on documenting their impressions and comparing the classroom with the experiential with help from experts in the field.

Postings on campus have pictures of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and iWeb icons. Below it says — 

-Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and blog to report on social injustices and LEARN how these modes help affect change. 

-LEARN about the history, aesthetics and production techniques of the media activist

-CREATE a photo essay, blog, website, and short video using WordPress, iWeb, Vimeo, Final Cut Studio, and YouTube to upload short media stories for a global audience

-ACQUIRE basic camera, sound, and lighting skills to create a 3 minute video for the web 

The only prerequisite you need is Culture, Race, and Media. But, if you are interested and are a documentary student and have not taken CRM, you may be able to contact the instructor and try to get in the class. 

There are eight spots left. Don't miss this great class being offered in the Spring.

Michael Moore Attends Premiere Screening in Chicago

How fitting is it that during a week of premieres for Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, the “group of twenty” nations (G20), which together account for about 85 percent of the world’s economy, were in Pittsburgh to revitalize global free market policies and even renew the people of the world’s faith in capitalism?

Just as Michael Moore was about to begin his premiere in Chicago, in Pittsburgh thousands of students (effectively or ineffectively) were acting upon what they think and feel about capitalism and were being criminalized and suppressed by a security presence that was effectively imposing martial law on the city of Pittsburgh so that the G20 summit could happen without a din going on in the background.

At the premiere in Chicago, about 50-100 people from the general public were allowed in to the premiere. Another couple hundred seats were for press, local politicians, union workers, and workers from the Republic Windows factory, which had staged a sit-in in December 2008 when the workers found out the factory they worked in would be shut down and they would not be getting owed vacation and severance pay.

The screening was an event. Moore came before the audience to introduce the film saying he was honored to be here. He would be going on Bill Maher’s show, and afterward, a Q&A would take place.

In two hours, Moore along with his great crew and archival team weaved a tableau that connected a series of events and personal stories which had occurred in the past few years.

A montage of bank robberies with Iggy Pop singing a rendition of “Louie, Louie” opens the movie. A masterfully edited sequence comparing America and the history of Rome before its empire fell takes place followed. Then, Americans are seen being “robbed” by banks or having their homes foreclosed on.

Moore's new favorite fact to tell news pundits is heard: A foreclosure happens once every 7.5 seconds. Rep. Marcy Kaptur is featured in the film advocating for open rebellion as she says from the House floor to Americans, “don’t leave your home” unless the bank foreclosing on you can physically produce your mortgage.

A harrowing portion of the film provides Americans a glimpse into the dark side of capitalism through “dead peasant policies,” a practice that involves businesses or corporations taking out life insurance policies on people who they think will die and make them money. The practice symbolizes all that it is evil about capitalism.

Moore said of “dead peasant policies” during the Q&A that this is “how corporations see you.” They think it is in their best interest to not give you health insurance and rig the system through unsafe conditions in the workplace. Then, you will die sooner and will make them money.

A horrific story involving young people is included in the film. Moore details how two Pennsylvania judges were charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. He chooses to go beyond calling this corruption and calls it a symptom of capitalism, a result of a system that legitimizes greed.

In the latter part of the movie, Congress is shown doing the bidding of Sec. of Treasury Henry Paulson. The majority of Congress members are afraid of voting “no”, of being responsible for an economic meltdown that could cost them their re-election. Like in October 2002 when they were afraid to vote against the Iraq war for fear of being labeled a supporter of Saddam, they allow what Rep. Marcy Kaptur agrees is a “financial coup d’état.”

Archival footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that Moore explained was “conveniently lost and buried” appears toward the end of the film. As he was dying, FDR asked that someone film him speaking about a Second Bill of Rights.

For Moore and crew working on the film, it was intensely emotional every time they watched the footage because it made one wonder what the last 65 years would have been like if Americans had seen this. And, the archival team uncovered the footage by refusing to believe the Roosevelt Library when the library told them the footage didn’t exist.

The film is an intensely personal one for Moore. Going back to the production of Roger & Me (1989), Moore goes into the trials and horrors that his hometown Flint, Michigan experienced and how Flint has been for the past twenty years. Moore tries to get a meeting with the men in charge of running GM so he can offer some advice that could significantly turn business around. He is not allowed to go near the building entrance.

The faith Moore had as a child in Judeo-Christian teachings and interviews with priests add an extra element of intensity. News clips show how Americans have been duped into having faith in capitalism, faith that directly contradicts what many believe religiously.

Moore’s magnum opus comes to an end with a sequence of Obama riling up citizens for “hope and change.” Shots of individuals taking on the recession, shots of people refusing to let capitalism take away basic needs that are necessary for survival, and shots of workers championing democracy in the workplace end the film on a high note.

The idea of democracy in the workplace was emboldened by the presence of the Republic Windows workers whose story was featured in the film. Moore and his crew were the only media allowed in to the factory during the sit-in. It is evident that the workers trusted Moore as an ally who would give voice to their values and a few of the workers choose to thank him personally during the Q&A.

The audience participating in the Q&A showed signs of increasing skepticism for Obama. Chicago might be “Obamaland,” but the engaged working class of Chicago knew even more clearly after seeing Moore’s film that Obama has been conducting policy for the richest 1% at the expense of the poor, working, and middle classes of America.

Moore indicated that he found the appointment of Timothy Geithner to Secretary of Treasury and the naming of Larry Summers as an adviser to be very unsettling. Instead of being properly critical of Obama, he chose to apply twisted logic to the situation and argue that big banks hire bank robbers to help them prevent banks from being robbed and so, perhaps, Obama hired Geithner, Summers, and others closely linked to the banking industry so they could tell him how to prevent Americans from being robbed again.

It doesn’t quite make sense how willing Moore is to contend that we should continue to hope Obama does something that would sharply contrast his history as a senator, presidential candidate, and as a president so far. What does make sense, however, is how Moore explains that Obama has been out there alone with little support from the Left in America.

Moore tells the audience there is no crying in politics. Americans have to get busy themselves and cannot leave this up to a Michael Moore or Barack Obama. He asks the audience to organize around the movie and bring groups and unions to the film that will open in more than 1,000 theaters.

Capitalism: A Love Story has the potential to tap into the anger boiling beneath the surface, anger that has manifested itself on the right but has unfortunately been stifled and stymied by progressives, liberals, activist organizations, and even unions.

A film student stood up during the Q&A to ask what advice he would give film students. Moore told film students in the audience “beg, borrow, and steal” and “shoot, shoot, shoot.” He says “make films from your heart.”

He added, “Don't make what you think will look good. Make something you would like to go see on a Friday night.”

Finally, he told film students, “Think about the 1 million who want to see your movie, not the other 299 million in America” that won't. Focus on mobilizing that audience to see your film and you'll be successful.

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