The objectives of the Documentaries & the Law Course are as follows: to develop the skills required for reviewing or critiquing law-genre documentaries; to understand the role of lawyering (or “legalling”) in the creative process by which documentaries are made (including analysis of such issues as consent and invasion of privacy; copyright and fair use; truth and defamation); to explore the range of existing uses of visual or video legal advocacy in various legal proceedings or contexts (ranging from video settlement documentaries to victim impact statements and video clemency petitions); and to gain an understanding of the rudiments of nonfiction film storytelling. Regina Austin, “The Next ‘New Wave’: Law-Genre Documentaries, Lawyering in Support of the Creative Process, and Visual Legal Advocacy,” 16 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 809 (2006), is essentially a primer for the course.
Visual Legal Advocacy introduces students to the art of making short nonfiction advocacy films on behalf of actual individual clients and/or groups devoted to the advancement of the cause of social justice. Instruction tracks the steps in the production of a nonfiction or documentary film, starting with pre-production planning (including writing treatments and shooting scripts, budgeting, and scheduling), going on to the rudiments of production (including introductions to camera, lighting, and sound equipment), and concluding with post-production (including making paper edits and an introduction to editing). Participants are divided into several working groups or crews that are responsible for the production of a short piece of visual legal advocacy. Students have produced videos dealing with a variety of subjects, including the closing of an institution for the mentally and physically disabled, the Philadelphia Foreclosure Court, prison overcrowding in Philadelphia, and intergroup conflict at an urban high school. They have also made videos for individuals seeking executive pardons and families attempting to avoid deportation.
The Penn Program on Documentaries and the Law was featured in:
Statement of Professor Regina Austin on the Use of Film in Teaching Advanced Torts: Cultural Conflict and the Intentional Torts:
This course considers the law of intentional torts from the perspective of intergroup and intragroup conflict. Although many tort actions involve strangers, intentional tort actions very often arise from the repeated or continuous interaction between contending groups or communities distinguished by race, ethnicity, language, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, or class. Moreover, members of the groups or communities may be divided among themselves and resort to tort law as well to resolve their internal differences.
The goal of the course is to develop techniques for analyzing legal disputes with regard to the full context in which they arise, particularly as viewed from the perspective of groups or persons of subordinate status. Among the topics to be explored are the construction of women’s consent to medical procedures (including sterilization, female genital surgery, and plastic surgery); consent to physical and emotional assault within the context of male bonding associations (teams, gangs, and fraternities); false imprisonment and worker exploitation; gentrification as a tort; and defamation, invasion of privacy and the maintenance of social stratification.
Videos and ethnographic readings will be employed liberally. Among the films that will be screened and analyzed are “Who Killed Vincent Chin,” ‘Heart of the Game,” “Family Affair,” “The Confessions of Bernard Goetz,” “Flag Wars,” “Farmingville,” and “Born Rich: An Inside Look at the Lives of…”