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Abstract

This Article challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about law-genre documentaries. Part I will propose a working definition of law-genre documentaries because such a categorization is a necessary precursor to thinking or writing about the relevance of documentary films to lawyers, law students, and anyone interested in law and the pursuit of justice. The Article will go on from there to describe in Part II the various rhetorical or narrative styles or modes of filmmaking that documentarians employ. Although these styles or modes contribute to the impenetrability of documentary films, an understanding of their limitations can open up documentary films to critical analysis and greater appreciation. The discussion will suggest that reflexivity or introspection on the part of the subjects, the filmmaker, and the audience, all of whom are active constructors of “the reality” reflected on the screen, is the key to interpreting documentary film. Part III will take the analysis beyond reflexivity by suggesting how law-trained viewers constitute a critical “authenticating audience” for law-genre films because of their ability to understand not only the films’ content, but also the context of their making which significantly parallels the role law and lawyering now play in the creative process by which documentary films are produced. Finally, Part IV will describe visual legal advocacy, a form of nonfiction filmmaking done by lawyers on behalf of clients and their causes. An enhanced ability to engage in and respond to visual legal advocacy is the payoff for law students and practicing lawyers who take seriously the study of law-genre documentaries and the role law plays in nonfiction film criticism and production.

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