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Monday, March 01, 2010

Documentary Galore!

Hello, Everyone,

It's good to be back for a month-long blogging stint. As some of us are spending more time indoors in this cold weather, I thought I'd start off by recommending some terrific law-related documentaries I've seen lately. Most, but not all, are criminal-justice-related.

A Hard Straight: Goro Toshima's 2005 film documents, with a perfect combination of unflinching honesty and humanist empathy, the rehabilitation efforts of three inmates recently released from California prisons. Regina struggles to stay clean and reconcile with her daughter; Aaron is back in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, wandering the streets and trying to stay away from yet another parole violation; and Smiley, about to become a first-time dad, struggles with his parole officer's requirement to stay away from his gang associates--the only family he has and his source of income as a tattoo artist. 

Writ Writer: Susanne Mason's 2008 film tells the amazing story of Fred Cruz, a Texas prison inmate during the 1960s and 1970s and the spirit behind Ruiz v. Estelle, the case that brought the Texan correctional monster to its knees. Offering some unbelievable and shocking footage from Texas correctional institutions, more than vaguely reminiscent of antebellum plantations, the film uses interviews with inmates and guards, as well as Cruz's diary and letters, to show how inmates ingeniously and relentlessly fought from within bars to have basic constitutional rights.

Crude: Joe Berlinger, the man behind incredible documentaries such as Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost, brings us this 2009 examination of the ongoing legal proceedings against Chevron-Texaco in Ecuador for environmental damage. The film includes interviews with both plaintiffs and defendants, and introduces us, in a gentle and humane way, to the plight of the Secoya and Cofan people, whose habitat, livelihood, and health, it is argued, has been severely destroyed by irresponsible, greedy drilling. We meet the American and Ecuadorian lawyers (perceptive viewers will enjoy the cultural differences between their styles of lawyering and approaches toward schedules, politics, and maneuvering the system) and are exposed to some of the techniques involved in litigating a case against corporate giants--such as drawing celebrities and publicity to one's case.

Shakespeare Behind Bars: A production of Shakespeare's The Tempest within a prison is in the center of this touching 2003 film from Hank Rogerson. We are introduced to the troupe, their lives in prison, their relationships with each other and with the director, and their rehearsals. The film's great strength is in tying the play's plot to the cast's individual journeys of atonement and redemption; it does not flinch from revealing the painful realities of crimes committed by sympathetic members of the troupe. 

The Black Rock: This 2009 film was made by Kevin Epps, who also brought us Straight Outta Hunter's Point, and whose films often examine stratification and struggles across race and class lines. For anyone who's gone on an Alcatraz tour, this film brings back the unique experience of African American inmates, using interviews with former inmates to show the racialized experience of imprisonment in times of overt racism and racial segregation.

A set of fiction recommendations will follow. Enjoy your winter!

Posted by Hadar Aviram on March 1, 2010 at 10:27 AM in Criminal Law, Film | Permalink


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Really interesting list, will definitely check out each one of them.


Posted by: Jones Scott | Mar 15, 2010 12:04:18 PM

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