Film Teams See Success and Some Formidable Challenges

Today, our course began with a conversation with the national security team, which is looking into the kind of profiling that takes place at mosques. A member of this group noted her initial outreach to film subjects and described the group’s pre-interview research with coordinators and imams at mosques; some of this pre-interview research went well (in terms of cooperation with the filmmakers’ goals, in terms of willingness of subjects to be filmed, and in variety of sound bites already obtained) and others did not. The group also made some progress on researching potential increases in domestic violence since 9/11 but has so far been unable to find the right person or family to follow in documenting this research. There was some interesting difficulty in the group’s basic narrative goals slipping away from them as they were given more ideas by the people they contacted during pre-interview research, but the group reiterated its interest in emphasizing the plight of women in light of national security investigations.

The Fog Of War

After this discussion, Sharat showed a clip from Errol Morris’ Fog of War, describing filming techniques and the attempt to make a subject communicable. The idea of some Visual Law groups of showing families interacting and being in the park, and making these families relatable, was demonstrated in the Morris clip where he expressed death totals from the nuclear bomb in terms of the comparable size of American cities, and thus made abstract numbers seem closer to home.

We spoke briefly about what would constitute *too much footage* for a film. It was suggested that each team shoot for approximately ten total hours, but this total is flexible.

We then talked about the immigration team‘s work, which has so far been centered around a family’s struggle after an immigration raid at a convenience store. They have done some filming over the weekend, and ran into the issue of people who were very suspicious of how their footage would be used. The group noted that it would both have to work to gain the trust of their subjects as well as be very sensitive to individual issues — for instance, the group was at a local immigration center during its intake day, and the leader of the center suggested that it might be a bad day for filming given the large number of people present. One member of the group is planning to attend oral arguments related to the raid, and we discussed whether and how the team might obtain video, audio, or textual footage of these arguments from the court.

As for footage of the raid itself, we discussed how to intersperse this footage within the film, and analyzed Errol Morris’ strategies in Standard Operating Procedure. Should all of the raid footage be used initially (“let’s now back up and show how we got to this point”), should this footage be broken up into different pieces, or should pieces be shown repeatedly as knowledge and context are gained relating to the raid? Compare to strategies used in The Cove, where small pieces of the footage were shown at various points in the movie, and it was clear that the movie was in part about how the team obtained this footage.

Finally, we discussed the work of the criminal team and their outreach to members of the police force and advocacy groups. This team lacks specific footage of police profiling, and discussed using pop cultural images of profiling (for instance, from the television show Cops) in place of unique footage. Other questions centered on how to display the alienation of a family member: whether it’s done with composition (e.g., in front of a large amount of blank space) or editorially (e.g., in the context of a park where some families are playing and the family in question is not).

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