I absolutely love organizations, initiatives, people and ideas that combine law and innovation, or take a creative approach to a legal issue. I recently discovered the Yale Visual Law Project and fell in love with the group’s idea and execution.
Based at Yale Law School, The Yale Visual Law Project produces short documentary films on legal issues to advance public debate. They have a year-long practicum at the law school which “trains law students in the art of visual advocacy — making effective arguments through film.”
The group explores the intersection between law and film through workshops, discussions, guest speakers, and production of short films and documentaries by law students. The other component is advocacy: the project’s aim is to discuss some of the ways in which the law impacts real people and their lives. They tackle topics such as criminal justice and immigration laws, and speak to the people affected by the legal system in profound ways. They want to create dialogue around legal issues and policies, and advocate against injustice.
Personally, I find this project inspiring because I find interdisciplinary approaches so important in the legal field. To be maximally effective, legal advocacy has to be paired with media and storytelling efforts. Without that, we miss out on reaching an entire audience who can relate to the problem and contribute to the solution in some form.
The Project’s Founder, Valerie Kaur, describes this very eloquently:
…I came to law school three years ago as a filmmaker. In the first week of school, I shared my film in this very room with many of you. Back then, I spoke about the legal field and classrooms like this one as fighting rings, where we would wield the law to beat our opponents with our arguments. I saw filmmaking as a way to melt that fighting ring into a circle around a fire, where we would tell stories that changed hearts and minds from the inside. Both were different ways to effect change and advance justice. I saw them as opposed. It wasn’t long before this changed: I saw stories all over the law, storytelling coursing through the life of our cases and arguments and briefs. The legal field is a site for narrative contestation, a battle of storytelling. But I also saw the absence of stories. The stories of people who most bear the consequences of the law, their faces and voices are often left out of legal analysis and debate. So that gave rise to the question: if law is about narrative contestation, and film best makes vivid buried stories, how can we better use film in the legal field, both inside and outside the courtroom, to advance the public interest?
The solution she came up with, alongside other students, was the Visual Law Project. They started looking at filmmakers making legal arguments through their films, and also found examples of filmmaking and visual advocacy employed by lawyers and legal scholars. The interdisciplinary project allowed them to become better lawyers too, as they learned to present their arguments through film.
Watch Alienation below to get a sense of their work. And then click here to read and listen to the words of the filmmakers themselves.