At the Law and Film Conference at the University of Maryland School of Law last weekend, several law professors spoke about the ways in which they use film to teach their law courses. For example, Margaret Russell at Santa Clara University of Law spoke about showing clips from the documentary entitled The Untold Story of Emmett Till and from the documentary entitled Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson's American Journey. Both were used to bring to life certain issues in her law courses. The documentary about the Emmett Till case could be used, she suggested, to talk about jury composition and evidentiary burdens. In the wake of so many debates over Supreme Court nominees, Professor Russell discussed how she showed parts of the documentary about the Honorable Thelton Henderson to discuss what makes a good (or bad) judge. In particular, she played for the conference attendees a particularly illuminating clip from the film in which Judge Henderson and others speak about the reason Judge Henderson did not recuse himself from civil rights cases despite his profound involvement in the civil rights movement. In a world where students are more easily engaged with the visual image and the screen (be it a computer screen or a movie or television screen), Professor Russell admitted that sometimes the best way to communicate with students is to mobilize the visual language with which they are most at ease.
Professor Marilyn Berger from Seattle University School of Law spoke about her film Lessons from Woburn about the case (Anderson et al v. W.R. Grace et al) on which the book and film The Civil Action were based. This film is an interactive documentary that students and the professor can explore together to review documents and testimony from the legal case as well as testimonials and other information that were not part of the legal saga. Meant to be used in a civil procedure course, the film discusses the bifurcation of the trial, ethical issues faced by the attorneys, procedural and subject matter issues raised by the trial, as well as juriprudential questions that students might consider in evaluating the case and its result as a whole.
These presentations at the conference got me thinking about the case books that have come out in the past several years that include DVDS or video supplements to enhance classroom discussion. I believe George Fisher's book on evidence includes such a supplement. And I think Lempert, Gross and Liebman's evidence casebook does as well. I wonder how many other casebooks could be enhanced with visual supplements. I can think of a dozen film clips that I would like to show in my constitutional law class (I already show clips from Eyes on the Prize, Tying the Knot, Unfinished Business (on the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII), and Seizing Power: The Steel Seizure Case Revisited). I would love to hear what other films people can think of that would be particularly illustrative or thought provoking for core law courses?