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Yale Visual Law Project Caps Successful First Year With Release of Two Student-Produced Films

A new program teaching Yale Law School students how to use film to present legal arguments has marked the successful completion of its first year with the release of two short documentaries – “Stigma” and “Alienation.” Students wrote, produced, directed and edited the films as part of their participation in the Yale Visual Law Project, an initiative of Yale Law School’s Information Society Project that began in September 2010. The project enables students to work alongside top professional filmmakers in a yearlong practicum integrating film theory, legal theory and hands-on production.

“We are excited to join a rising community of law schools teaching the art of visual advocacy,” said Valarie Kaur ’12, founder and director of the Visual Law Project. “Visual technologies have transformed the practice of law in the last decade. Lawyers are using film to present evidence, victim-impact statements, and stories for public education campaigns. This program trains students to wield the camera effectively.”

Throughout the year, students learn how to develop their story and argument, plan shoots, conduct interviews, operate camera equipment, direct cinematographers and edit rough cuts. The films they produce are intended to show the lived experiences of people directly affected by complex legal issues. 

“Stigma” examines “stop and frisk” police practices in New York City, following two men who have been stopped based on “reasonable suspicion” approximately 20 times before their 18th birthday. “Alienation” looks at two families swept up in a 2007 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a 7-Eleven in Baltimore. 

“Both films capture the faces and voices of people whose stories usually get left out of legal analysis,” Kaur said. “They employ emotion and empathy, inviting viewers to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” 

The Visual Law Project’s advisory board of legal scholars, social media entrepreneurs, and filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman, Abby Ginzberg, and Academy Award-nominee Alex Gibney provide invaluable support, including lectures and workshops. Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin and Yale Film Studies Professor Charles Musser serve as faculty advisors.

“Lawyers must learn to think critically about visual media,” said Professor Balkin, “and one of the best ways to do that is to learn to make arguments with these media. The Visual Law Project serves an important but under-appreciated educational mission.”

For more information about the Yale Visual Law Project and to watch “Stigma” and “Alienation,” visit the project’s website at www.yalevisuallawproject.org.