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NYC Film Festivals

Fordham Fest Screens the Law

From Jack McCoy to Ally McBeal, we are obsessed with watching the law -- or what, after Law and Order marathons, we believe to be the criminal justice system. For those of us who can't get enough legal jargon and courtroom drama, the Fordham Law Film Festival's debut offers a week of screenings and debates about the intersection of the courtroom and the cinema.

Spearheaded by Fordham professor Thane Rosenbaum, the festival hosts both classic and contemporary films addressing the quandries of the legal process. The event is the newest extension of the Forum of Law, Culture, and Society, a program hosting conversations about law and justice in a "town hall" setting; in featuring chats with playwright Tony Kushner, author E.L. Doctorow and director Sidney Lumet, Rosenbaum discovered the public's fascination in the merging of art and legal discourse. "We wanted to show how the artist sees the law differently than the lawyer or professor, and people really responded," he said.

The film festival extends the Forum's conversation into the realm of cinema, where a director and screenwriter(s) answer the public's plea for satisfying legal narrative. "The public has had a long-standing obsession with the trial system," Rosenbaum said. "We expect juries to whisper in the background like a Greek chorus. It's clear that we have a longing for justice and order."

Out of that longing for justice -- on film, when we can't find it in real life -- come the festival's well-known legal narratives: Lumet's 12 Angry Men, Jonathan Kaplan's 1988 film The Accused and Stanley Kramer's 1961 Judgment at Nuremberg among others. These films touch on every aspect of the law's influence in our lives, from the thin line between freedom of expression and immorality (Thank You for Smoking) to the dismissal of corporate security in pursuit of the truth (A Civil Action) to the cost of justice exacted through revenge (In the Bedroom). Post-screening discussions feature guests including political satirist (and Smoking author) Christopher Buckley, assistant district attorney Joel Seideman and award-winning journalist Jack Ford.

Yet despite the discussions moderated by legal theorists and critics, the content of the films challenges audiences to think of law and justice beyond the walls of the courtroom -- to consider how film depicts justice as attainable or unattainable within the confines of the law. The festival's goal is not just to show how lobbyists like Smoking's Nick Naylor dance on the line between morality and legality, but also to expand the understanding of our obsession with law and our longing for satisfying legal narratives in art and film. "The festival should help audiences tap into their fascination with the representation of law on film," Rosenbaum said. "And then they'll go to the post-screening talks to join the conversation." -- Jessica Freeman-Slade

The Fordham Law Film Festival runs Oct. 20-26 at Lincoln Center and the Fordham Law School; visit the festival site for schedules and ticket information.

Posted at October 20, 2006 3:54 PM

Comments (1)

I found Todd Field's "In the Bedroom" an appalling endorsement of vigilantism.

The film was grounded on a manipulative story in which every element served to make us root for the bereaved father to take justice in his own hands.

Perhaps there should be a "In the Bedroom" double bill with (less than perfect, but anti-vigilantism) "The Ox-Bow Incident."

Else, a double bill with Field's own "Little Children" would do. Curiously, Field's latest film is a scathing (and quite over-the-top) condemnation of vigilantism.

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