Videotaped Confessions and the Genre of Documentary
Jessica M. Silbey
Suffolk University Law School
Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 16, p. 789, 2006
This essay begins the exploration of two contemporary and related film trends: the recent popular enthusiasm over the previously arty documentary film and the mandatory filming of custodial interrogations and confessions.
The history and criticism of documentary film, indeed contemporary movie-going, understands the documentary genre as political and social advocacy (recent examples are Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 and Errol Morris's Fog of War). Judges, advocates, and legislatures, however, assume that films of custodial interrogations and confessions reveal a truth and lack a distorting point of view. As this Article explains, the trend at law, although aimed at furthering venerable criminal justice principles, holds a fairly naïve view of film's indexical relationship to the lived world and abjures consideration of the contemporary trend in cinema.
Understanding the documentary as truth-revealing is a mistake, a mistake which can frustrate (if not undermine) the criminal justice goals of the legislation.
Whatever may explain the convergence of filmmaking in the precinct house and a penchant for mainstream documentary movie-going, the trends are shaping contemporary expectations about film in contradictory ways. Investigating these trends together exposes competing norms regarding film as a legal tool and as a knowledge producing discourse. It also situates the criminal justice trend in the context of a long history of filmmaking and critical spectatorship. In light of the growing use of film as a policing mechanism, better understanding of film as both an art and a legal tool is in order.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 20
Keywords: evidence, film, law and popular culture, documentary, law and film, law and literature, intellectual property
JEL Classification: K14, K10, K41Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: January 14, 2007
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