A New York City judge has rejected the city’s attempt to subpoena outtakes from Ken Burns’s 2012 documentary The Central Park Five.
The movie follows the case of five men who were convicted for the 1989 rape of a Central Park jogger and exonerated for the crime in 2002 thanks to DNA evidence; the wrongfully accused brought a federal lawsuit against the city soon after they were vindicated. Last year, the city’s lawyers subpoenaed unreleased footage and other materials from Burns’s documentary to bolster their defense, arguing that the film had “crossed from documentary to pure advocacy.” Burns and his co-directors refused to comply, saying that the city’s request was “neither appropriate nor enforceable under the governing law for subpoenas served on professional journalists exercising their right of independent free speech.”
Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis of the United States District Court in Manhattan agreed with Burns in court yesterday, ruling that Burns is still entitled to journalistic privilege under the law — even though his film was sympathetic to the Central Park Five. “Indeed, it seems likely that a filmmaker would have a point of view going into a project,” the judge wrote.
Burns, who is currently vacationing with his family, released a statement about the decision, saying that he and his collaborators think Judge Ellis made “exactly the right ruling.” “We are also mindful that this ruling goes far beyond our current situation; this adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere,” he continued. “We recognize too that this attempt to subpoena our outtakes and notes only further delayed the nearly decade long efforts by the plaintiffs to seek redress. We hope this serves as a positive impetus to move that original suit to a resolution.”