It was announced today that New York City's case against the Central Park Five filmmakers Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns has been blocked by a federal judge. Back in October, 2012, the filmmakers received a subpoena from the City of New York for the outtakes and extra footage from the documentary. Although the lawyers for the city insisted on seeing all of the footage before the film was released to the public, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis said the city's concerns did not override the "precious rights of freedom of speech and the press."
The court wrote that:
Florentine’s motion to quash Defendants’ amended subpoena [for outtakes and notes in the Central Park 5 film] is GRANTED because: (1) Florentine [the filmmaker] has established entitlement to the reporter’s privilege; and (2) Defendants have failed to overcome the reporter’s privilege by making a showing that the information they seek pertains to a significant issue and is unavailable from alternative sources.
The IDA was proud to stand with these filmmakers when they were first subpoenaed, and is pleased with the court's decision to block the subpoena. To further understand the implications if the City of New York had not had their case blocked, please read a previous statement from Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.
This verdict comes on the heels of an important Doc U educational seminar held in January by the IDA, where panelists including Sarah Burns and entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson participated in a robust discussion on navigating the intersection of documentary and journalism. We were happy to have come away from this panel with the clarity and insight, provided by Donaldson, about the ways that journalistic privilege extends to documentary filmmakers.
The outcome is a victory not just for the three filmmakers, but for documentary filmmakers throughout the United States who strive to be awarded the same rights as other journalists.