Law, Film and Evidence
Law is primarily a profession of spoken and written words. And yet law and lawyering have always been subjects that have fascinated filmmakers and their audiences. What are some of the connections between law and film? In this Perspective seminar, we will look at the relationship between film and law, with a particular (though not exclusive) focus on ideas about evidence. How do films persuade, and how does filmic persuasion work differently than persuasion in other genres? What counts as ‘evidence’ within a movie? Is there some part of the law that is only visible rather than legible? To what extent do the words of law rely on or relate to those portions of human experience that are not easily captured in language? Do we have different answers to these questions vis-a-vis documentary films, especially documentary films with legal or evidentiary content? Is there a meaningful parallel between the film viewer and the jury? When we consider the spate of recent ‘wrongful conviction films,’ can documentaries ever be a form of legal advocacy? What about fiction films? Can they be a form of advocacy, and if so, when or why? More generally, do films help us understand law in any special or distinct way?
In this seminar, we will examine questions like these from multiple perspectives, with each session focusing on a film (or two) with occasional ancillary readings. Students will be expected to watch the films in advance of class and to write short 1-2 page response paper/questions relating to each assignment. The films will be a mix of documentary films and fiction films with law and/or evidence-related content. Possible films may include: Capturing the Friedmans; The Thin Blue Line; Stories We Tell; The Sweet Hereafter; Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills; 12 Angry Men; Compulsion; Call Northside 777; Murder on a Sunday Morning; The Central Park 5; among others.
All meetings will be held at 6:30 PM at Professors Mnookin’s Westwood house or at local restaurants in or around Westwood. Sessions will be held on the following Sunday evenings: September 29, October 20, November 24, January 12 and February 9.