University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

The Impact of Film on Law, Lawyers, and the Legal System

Abstracts & Professional Biographies

Click on Names Below for Conference Faculty Bios

Regina Austin
William A. Schnader Professor of Law
University of Pennsylvania School of Law
“Face Time:" Visual Legal Advocacy and the Documentation of Class

The disaster that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina produced media images of black poverty that were stark, genuine, and moving. As a result, race and class were proclaimed to be on the front burner again. However, interest in even these victims of monumental governmental neglect is likely to wane as their pictures fade from our memory and American’s general distaste of images of the poor returns. Of course, the public seems never to tire of images of the rich, although we do prefer to see the rich flaunting their wealth, rather than being reflexive about. The documentary film “Born Rich is a good illustration of this. Unlike television and other forms of mass media, though, nonfiction films still document the lives of people who earn their money by hard work or who are dependent on public sources of support. Lawyers can learn a thing or two from documentary films about putting a face on the issues around which we advocate. Lawyers could do a much better job of harnessing the power of visual media to advance the causes of their clients. Digital technology, even with its capacity to manipulate the truth, has enormous potential as a technique for mounting legal arguments visually. The study of documentaries, which are more likely to reflect or promote reflexivity than the truth, is an important device for heightening lawyers’ visual literacy or their capacity to read and create filmed legal advocacy.

Taunya Lovell Banks
Jacob A. France Professor of Equality Jurisprudence
University of Maryland School of Law

Marilyn Berger
Professor of Law
Seattle University School of Law

The Power of Stories: The Journey

"Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway." - John Wayne, movie actor & director (1907 - 1979)

Making documentary film requires courage and perseverance – it is an intense and demanding process; at the same time it is exhilarating and breathtaking. Through discussion and excerpts we will take a journey behind the scenes from two documentary film projects for legal education I am involved with: Lessons from Woburn and Out of the Ashes: 9-11, (currently in production). These projects illustrate -- how I got involved in making movies, crafting the stories, financing the projects, actual production, and distribution. Lessons from Woburn consists of three documentary films based on the Anderson v. W. R. Grace lawsuit, the book and Hollywood movie, A CIVIL Action. It is about families in Woburn, Massachusetts who brought a lawsuit over Woburn’s contaminated drinking water. Excerpts from the “real” versus the Hollywood re-enactment of a deposition demonstrate how documentary film imparts exciting relevance to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Out of the Ashes: 9-11, will tell the story of seven 9-11 families and examine the impact that the largest public entitlement program, The Victim Compensation Fund, had on their lives and on the civil justice system. Excerpts from the film offer an unprecedented window into the monetary remedies we provided and whether the Fund undermined our legal system as its critics claim, or was an attempt at tort reform?

Sherri L. Burr
Professor of Law
University of New Mexico School of Law

Robert S. Chang
Professor & J. Rex Dibble Fellow
Loyola Law School

Jed Dietz
Director of the Maryland Film Festival

Morad Eghbal
Director of LLM in the Law of the United States
Deputy Director of the Center for International and Comparative Law
University of Baltimore School of Law

John Alan Farmer
Head of Academic Initiatives
UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Sherrilyn Ifill
Associate Professor of Law
University of Maryland
School of Law

Orit Kamir
Professor of Law
Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel
Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Law School


My analysis of law-and-film reflects and develops three distinct theoretical premises: that some films’ modes of social operation parallel those of the law and legal system; that some films enact viewer-engaging judgment; and that some films elicit popular jurisprudence These premises may be dubbed “law and film as analogous social agents”, “film as judgment” and “cinematic jurisprudence”. Such a study of law-and-film focuses on law-films’ performance of these functions. It allows one to engage in a vast variety of thought provoking jurisprudential matters, to dwell on the meanings, means and mechanisms of judgment, and to scrutinize various social functions of both law and film, while closely reading specific films and reviewing feature film at large.

Teaching law-and-film in accordance with these theoretical premises engages students in critical thinking, invites them to review law and jurisprudence in a wider socio-cultural context, encourages them to take popular culture seriously, and frames law as a part of the humanities. We live in an era in which many law students are under pressure to compete for grades that may open doors to corporate-law jobs, which can pay back enormous student loans. They are accustomed to posing questions about efficiency, while refraining from value judgment or justice-focused-rhetoric. Indeed, many law students are unfamiliar with the basic concepts and traditional schools of legal philosophy. Popular culture serves merely as time-out amusement. Law-and-film is a way to reintroduce issues and perspectives that have become all but irrelevant in many “regular” law school classes as well as to mainstream legal thinking. It draws on students’ passive, unconscious familiarity with popular culture to shed light on significant socio-cultural concerns, while connecting them with the law and the legal profession. In this, it reintegrates law and culture into students’ lives. Law-and-film allows law students to practice a different approach to law in a safe, familiar, pleasant environment. Reassured, some may dare to apply it to “regular law” and even to their own lives as law students and lawyers-to-be. This fresh perspective on law-and-life may make their chosen profession more personal and meaningful to them, and they may view it with a more critical and responsible awareness.

Sonia Katyal
Associate Professor of Law
Fordham University of Law School

Performing the Camera Obscura in Fan Film

Sonia K. Katyal and John Alan Farmer

A camera obscura is a dark chamber or box fitted with a small hole, through which light from an illuminated scene outside enters to form an inverted image on a screen placed opposite the hole. In the 17th century, the scientist Johannes Kepler used the camera obscura to explain the process of vision, and the artist Johannes Vermeer used it to make pictures. The modern analogue of today’s camera, the camera obscura is a rich metaphor for a type of relationship between technology, audience, and the rhetorical utility of the selective gaze. In contrast to a typical, linear perspective, which implies a picture of a fixed window of reality that is framed by the artist and viewed by a passive audience, the camera obscura implies the creation of a picture that literally takes the eyes’ place, thus leaving the frame and the viewer’s locational identity unstable, fluid, and dynamic.

In our paper, we seek to use the trope of the camera obscura to explore the relationship between audiences and performers within the intersection of art, technology, and copyright. We focus specifically on the role of the camera obscura in relation to the growing phenomenon of “fan films” in cyberspace. As we argue, modern technology has destabilized the concept that the meaning of a cultural text is equivalent to the intentions of the author by opening up texts to audience response and creativity. While most conventional scholarship tends to think of the audience as a largely passive body of recipients, performance theory has helped us to radically rethink these assumptions, and instead has offered scholars a host of insights regarding the multiple and intersecting ways in which audiences respond to performances, often creating rich and varied interpretations of a preexisting work, fan fiction being a single example. By creating spaces for the reworkings of cultural texts through a fan’s eyes, we allow films to transcend their fixed, stable form—and instead become properties that are performative in nature; that is, they become ripe for audience participation and contribution. Along these lines, we argue that copyright must view its motion picture commodities not as fixed, stable texts, but rather as a set of starting points, a set of ongoing performances that can be recoded and reanalyzed by an active audience. In other words, we argue that copyright law needs to equalize the authorial monopoly of the creator in favor of a more dialogic and dynamic relationship between producers and consumers in the process.

Cynthia Lucia
Assistant Professor of English and Cinema Studies
Rider University

"Female Lawyers in Film"

The history of women in law and as subject to law is a history of women positioned within a deeply rooted patriarchal ideology and as measured against a phallocentric standard of thought and achievement. With the increasing numbers of women entering law schools in the1980s and 1990s, Hollywood films featuring female lawyers simultaneously appeared to question this standard, while often reinforcing the ideology beneath it. Founded on the male as author of the text and owner of the look, the institutions of cinema and law have relied upon male-constructed narratives and the interrogatory male gaze to serve and to perpetuate existing power structures within those institutions. The more than twenty films centered on female lawyers, produced largely during the Reagan-Bush era, inscribe the complicated and often contradictory position of women in law. Yet something beyond the frequently cited Hollywood anti-feminism operates within these films, which also reveal a patriarchy in crisis, exposing the sometimes precarious yet historically tenacious position of patriarchal dominance within both cinema and the law. Through an examination of Adam's Rib, Class Action, The Accused, Female Perversions, and Legally Blonde, this presentation will provide an overview of Hollywood's treatment of female lawyers of the 1980s and beyond, with special focus on the positioning of film spectators vis à vis the female lawyer onscreen.

Zola Mashariki
Director of Productions for
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Bret McCabe
Baltimore City Paper
Arts Editor

Porter Heath Morgan
Attorney at Law

Robert Percival
Robert F. Stanton Professor of Law and
Director, Environmental Law Program
University of Maryland School of Law

Margaret Russell
Professor of Law
Santa Clara University
School of Law

Cinematic Moments as Teaching Moments

What makes a cinematic moment a teaching moment? When compared with writing about law and film, using film to teach the law involves vastly different opportunities and challenges. At a superficial level, teaching law, or indeed any topic, through visual means seems easier, more stimulating, more "state-of-the-art." Witness the proliferation of laptop computer screens in our classrooms and powerpoint presentations at our podiums. Yet, as we all know, these multimedia innovations can spawn as much pedagogical deterioration and student ennui as does the poorly taught written words of judicial opinions. One solution is to craft opportunities to use film at its highest and best use (in my view): to convey the humanistic potential of judging and of law itself. Using clips from a newly released documentary about an African-American federal district judge in San Francisco, "Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson's American Journey," I shall demonstrate how these points can be raised in two different classroom contexts: a typical first-year Civil Procedure course, and an upper-division social justice seminar.

Ellen Schneider
Executive Director of Active Voice

Richard K. Sherwin
Professor of Law
Director, Visual Persuasion Project
New York Law School
The Impact of Visual Technologies on Law, Lawyering, and Legal Institutions

To a significant extent, what we think about and how we think when we think about law reflects the culture around us. Today, electronic screens have proliferated in professional as well as private domains and informational uptake and interaction have grown apace. We have learned to simultaneously view multiple "windows" onto the real and the virtual; we have come to accept simulations interspersed with real life documentation; and we have willingly absorbed narratives with fragmented time lines shaped by nonlinear ("associative") forms of logic. This development is having an impact on people's expectations about what constitutes truth and justice in the domain of law. Savvy trial lawyers realize that they have no choice but to operate within the available bandwidth of popular culture. Accordingly, in increasing numbers lawyers are adapting their court practices to include showing visual evidence, telling visual stories, and making legal arguments with images as well as words. Law schools, however, are only just beginning to think through the implications of this increased reliance on visual technologies in legal practice. This presentation will provide examples of how visual storytelling and interactive information technologies are changing what we think about and how we think when we think about contemporary legal practice and law teaching.

Jessica Silbey
Professor of Law
Suffolk University Law School

Filmmaking in the Precinct House

The documentary film “The Confessions of Bernard Goetz” shows how the film of a criminal confession renders the significance of the confession neither plain nor evident. The nationwide trend requiring the filming of criminal confessions presumes to minimize unconstitutional coercion and promote accuracy in the criminal justice system. Perceived as indisputable evidence of the circumstances of the confession and thus the best evidence for assessing the voluntariness and truthfulness of the defendant’s statement, filmmaking in the precinct house is on the rise as form of documentary filmmaking. But it is not the kind of documentary filmmaking that police, attorneys and judges imagine. The history and art of documentary filmmaking considers documentary a form of political and social advocacy (recent examples are Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Errol Morris’s Fog of War). The documentary “The Confessions of Bernard Goetz” is no exception. As a closer look at this documentary will show, the documentary film genre does not aim to reveal or discover some truth previously disputed (the guilt or innocence of the defendant, for example), but instead to critique and temper inflexible truth claims. Moreover, filmed confessions are a form of autobiographical discourse, itself a subgenre of documentary film. Examining filmic confession evidence (such as that of Bernard Goetz) as these two different kinds of documentary films – on behalf of the state (a form of state-sponsored political advocacy) and on behalf of the confessant (a performance of self-representation that is akin to autobiography, perhaps “autobiofilm”) – undermines the state’s assertion that the filmed confession unambiguously denotes the accused defendant’s criminality.

**I will be showing clips from a VHS tape of the film “The Confessions of Bernard Goetz”

Rennard Strickland
Phillip H. Knight, Professor of Law
University of Oregon
School of Law


TONTO'S REVENGE or Who Is That Seminole in the Sioux Warbonnet?

A slide presentation of film images of Native Americans. Strickland reviews Indian stereotypes which he argues have significant impact on lawyers, judges and legislators when we decide specific cases, enact policies and create laws based on film image or cultural myth rather than the reality of modern Indian life. Illustrations are drawn from Strickland's extensive collection of film posters.

Robert Suggs
Professor of Law
University of Maryland
School of Law

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Admissions: PHONE: (410) 706-3492 FAX: (410) 706-1793

Copyright © 2018, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved