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Law-Related Movies — Documentaries


Movies - Home Page
"A to Z" List of Law-Related Movies
Movies Organized by Substantive Law Subject
Court Martial Movies
Courtroom Dramas

Inspirational Lawyer Movies
Prison-Related Movies
Top 10

13th (2016). Directed by Ava DuVernay. This documentary, nominated for best documentary in 2016 by the Academy Awards and by the same film-maker of Selma, takes its title from the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which abolished slavery. By focusing on the disproportionate amount of African-Americans (and other people of color) in US jails, the film discusses US history following the abolishment of slavery and the extent to which the exception in the 13th amendment for "punishment for crime" has substituted the initial form of abolished slavery into one that has seen Jim Crow laws, segregation, and mass incarceration as a new form of slavery. The movie has a very high approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, hovering in the 97% range.

56 Up (2012). Directed by Michael Apted. This documentary, which has followed the lives of a group of British students every 7 years, provides an update on the subjects, now at age 56. Three of the students who were part of the original group are lawyers who provide interesting insights on life and societal class. Read Roger Ebert's online review (4 out of 4 stars).

Anita (2013). Directed and written by Freida Lee Mock. Read Geoff Pevere's review here (from The Globe & Mail). This documentary recounts the story and testimony of Anita Hill regarding her allegations of sexual harassment against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her then supervisor at the time.

Big Boys Gone Bananas! (2011). Directed by Fredrik Gertten. An excellent movie that documents the film-maker's battle with the Dole Company who filed suit to ban the launch of his earlier movie (Banana's!) on the plight of Nicaraguan workers who alleged that the company was using a banned pesticide on its crop that caused sterility.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003). Directed by Andrew Jarecki. A captivating documentary of a high school teacher, his wife and their three sons and their involvement in the criminal justice system when the father and youngest son are charged with sexual crimes involving children. The movie's tagline – "Who do you believe?" – is reflected in the questions raised by the director regarding the prosecution and defence of the accused. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

The Case Against 8 (2014). Director by Ben Cotner and Ryan White. This documentary tells the story of the fight to overturn California's Proposition 8 and the court battle in Perry v Schwarzenegger.

The Central Park Five (2012). Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. This documentary tells the stories of five young black men who in 1989 were charged and convicted of a grisly rape in Central Park, New York, despite their claims of innocence based on what were alleged false confessions. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Citizenfour (2014). Directed by Laura Poitras. This documentary, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014, tells the story of Edward Snowden and his whistle-blowing of what he regarded as illegal or excessive wiretapping by the NSA. The movie raises issues of privacy, national security, whistle-blowing, and state immunity.

Counterfeit Culture (2103). Written and directed by Geoff D'Eon. This Canadian-produced documentary explores knock-off brand goods and their impact on society and culture.

Divorce Corp (2014). Directed by Joseph Sorge. This documentary discusses the challenges facing litigants in family-related litigation in the US court system.

The Fear of 13 (2015). Directed by David Sington. This documentary tells the story of death row inmate Nick Yarris, who at one point in his incarceration, requests that his death penalty be carried out despite the possibility that he is innocent of the crime he is charged with (no more details provided to avoid spoiler alerts).

Finders Keepers (2015). Documentary directed by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel about John Wood and Shannon Whisnant. This documentary tells the bizarre story of John Wood attempting to recover his amputed leg that was inadvertenly purchased by Shannon Whisnant when he bought a BBQ in which the amputed leg was being stored. Although lawyers and the legal system do not play a dominant role, the movie does raise issues of property law and the maxim "finders keepers." The movie has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Freedom Riders (2010). Directed by Stanley Nelson. This is a historical documentary made to mark the 50th anniversary of the "freedom riders" who were civil rights activists who would ride buses and occupy bus terminals to protest discriminatory segregationist laws aimed against African-Americans.

Give up Tomorrow (2011). Directed by Michael Collins. This documentary tells the story of the criminal prosecution in the Philippines of Paco and six other young men for the alleged rape and murder of two women. It portrays a criminal justice system rife with corruption and injustice. The film has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Hooligan Sparrow (2016). Directed by Nanfu Wang. This documentary tells the story of Ye Haiyan, known as the Hooligan Sparrow, relating to her efforts to expose the alleged abuse of six elementary school girls in China by their principal.

Hot Coffee (2011). Directed by Susan Saladoff. This documentary, based in part on the spilled hot coffee lawsuit in Liebeck v Macdonald's Restaurants, discusses the need for tort reform in the United States.

I Am Not Your Negro. Directed by Raoul Peck, narrated by Samuel L Jackson, and based on the James Baldwin unfinished novel, Remember This House. This documentary, as noted on its Wikipedia entry, "explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr." It was nominated for best documentary in 2016 by the Academy Awards. The movie has a very high approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, hovering the 98% range.

I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter (2019). This two-part documentary, available on HBO, tells the story of then 17-year-old Michelle Carter who was charged with involuntary manslaughter regarding the death by suicide of her friend Conrad Roy who the authorities alleged she encouraged to commit suicide through numerous text message and phone calls.

I Will be Murdered (2013). This documentary, directed by Justin Webster, tells the story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan lawyer, who predicted his own murder, suggesting by video that if he was found murdered that he was killed by the President. This fascinating film documents a number of conspiracy theory twists and turns.

Incident at Oglala (1992). A documentary narrated by Robert Redford and directed by Roger Apted. Tells the story of Leonard Pelletier who was, some say, wrongfully convicted of the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Kids for Cash (2013). Directed by Robert May. This documentary tells the story of the "kids for cash scandal" involving private juvenile jails and allegations against two judges who were alleged to have received payments from these private facilities for sentencing young offenders to those institutions.

Long Shot (2017). This short documentary, available on Netflix Canada, tells the story of Juan Catalan, convicted for a murder he says he didn't commit in Los Angeles and the efforts of his lawyer, Todd Melnik. If you have not heard of the "long shot" involved in his defence, I have intentionally not described what happens. Essential viewing.

The Loving Story (2011). Directed by Nancy Buirski. This documentary discusses the ground-breaking decision in Loving v Virginia (1967), 388 US 1, that struck down as discriminatory laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage. Read the review here from The Washington Post.

Making a Murderer (2015, 2018). This 10-episode documentary with a 10-episode second season released in 2018 (and both available on Netflix Canada), tells the story of Steven Avery, and his fight within the Wisconsin judicial system regarding his wrongful conviction for rape and his fight with the police officers who put in him jail (note: this summary is brief to avoid including spoiler alerts). A compelling story.

OJ: Made in America (2016). Directed by Ezra Edelman. This documentary, which runs close to 8 hours long, recounts the well-documented OJ Simpson trial by putting the trial into the context of race relations and police-citizen interactions in Los Angeles in light of the Rodney King beating and other events. The documentary has a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the high 90% range.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996). A documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the prosecution of 3 teenagers in Arkansas for the brutal murder of 3 young boys. The movie raises doubts about the guilt of the accused and the criminal justice system in general. Read the original New York Times review here.

Paradise Lost 2: The Revelations (2001). A follow-up documentary to the 1996 film (immediately above) that follows the appeals of the three accused. Read Roger Ebert's 3 star review here.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011). Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The third and final documentary in this alleged wrongful conviction of the West Memphis Three that documents a more recent appeal based on new DNA evidence and other facts not previously available. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Percy Schmeiser: David versus Monsanto (2009). Directed by Bertram Verhaag. This documentary tells the story of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and his wife Louise who were accused by Monsato of infringing their patent for genetically-modified canola seed that had drifted onto thr Scheiser farm, resulting in litigation that ultimately culminated in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser, [2004] 1 SCR 902.

Portrait of Wally (2012). Directed by Andrew Shea. This documentary tells the story of a painting (entitled "Portrait of Wally") by Austrian painter Egon Schiele that was stolen by Nazis during their occupation of Austria from its owner, Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art gallery owner. The movie raises legal and moral issues surrounding art ownership as a court battle ensues between the Austrian art dealer who acquired the painting after the war and the heirs of its original owners. Read a review of the film here from the Hollywood Reporter.

Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz (2018). This documentary recounts the life and work of Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and an inspiration for the entire world.

Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013). Directed by Cullen Hoback. This documentary discusses the use of online "click" agreements regarding user's privacy and other contractual rights.

The Thin Blue Line (1988). Documentary, directed by Errol Morris. A gripping documentary of the tale of two men involved in the murder of a police officer in Texas where one of the men ends up on Death Row for the murder when, in retrospect, it appears he may have been railroaded for the crime. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story (2013). Directed by Al Reinert and John Dean. This award-winning documentary tells the true-life story of Michael Morton's struggle to prove his innocence in the murder of his wife through the use of DNA evidence and the help of his lawyers, John Raley (of Texas) and Nina Morrison (of the Innocence Project). Read the Variety review here.

Weiner (2016). Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. Although this documentary, about Anthony Weiner, is more about political science than law, it is included here because of its insider look into the political process and the fall of a politician.

West of Memphis (2012). Directed by Amy Berg. Like the Paradise Lost documentaries discussed above, this film documents the ordeal of the West Memphis Three. Read Roger Ebert's online review (4 out of 4 stars).

Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019). Directed by Matt Tyrnauer. This documentary profiles controversial lawyer Roy Cohn, known most famously for representing Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in the range of 85%.

The Witness (2016). Directed by James Solomon. This documentary follows William Genovese, the brother of Kitty Genovese, as he seeks to better understand his sister's death in Queen's, New York, in 1964, a crime made famous by so-called "bystander apathy" where it was alleged over 30 persons witnessed or heard the crime being committed but failed to get involved. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the 90% range.



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  Cover of 4th edition of Legal Research and Writing
                (Irwin Law)

Legal Research and Writing:
4th Edition

by Ted Tjaden

Softcover 512 pgs.
Published: January 2016
Paperback: 978-1-55221-414-5
e-book: 978-1-55221-415-2

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