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LAW4527E - Representation of law in film

6 points, SCA Band 3, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate Faculty of Law


Prato First semester 2009 (Day)


Law is represented in film in various ways, both direct and implicit. Law is present not only in films that explicitly depict legal proceedings (such as courtroom dramas). Often the legal relevance is implicit, though central to the insights evoked by the film. Such are cinematic engagements with issues such as equality, justice, truth and the interrelationship between individuals and individuals and public.

The abundance of films that relate to law has two important impacts. Firstly, the cultural perception of law and our expectations from law stem, to a large extent, from cinematic articulations. Secondly, legal institutes and legal norms are influenced by the representation of law in films.

In the course we will discuss these impacts, and illustrate them by using films and theoretical writings.


  1. Drawing on a multidisciplinary perspective, we will examine possible explanations of the salience of law as an object of cinematic representation and characterize the ways in which legal stories are told through the cinematic medium. Such characterization will refer, inter alia, to the distinct forms of narrativity and iconography through which law is represented in film. It will be based both on familiarizing students with key concepts in film theory, and on analyzing the representation of law in a cluster of influential films drawn from different legal cultures.
  2. We will consider the added value which students of law might acquire through gaining a systematic theoretical understanding of how law is represented in film; for example, we will consider how cinematic representations contribute to our understanding of some major problematics in socio-legal studies (e.g. the relation between "law and books" and "law in action" and the relation between "procedural justice" and "substantive justice").
  3. We will seek to characterize the conceptual resemblance (as well as differentiation) between law and cinema as two mediums through which we construct the meaning of social reality. This investigation will be based on familiarizing the students with key aspects of the poetics of cinema and the poetics of law.
  4. We will examine the role played by visibility in the legal process, and consider the possible contribution of the analysis of visual expression in film theory for understanding the way in which imageries are being produced within the courtroom (these imageries are produced, for example, by lawyers while representing factual events, or by the legal system for legitimating the judicial authority to impose an enforceable interpretation of these events). These questions shall be explored from both conceptual and historical perspectives, with specific focus on discerning the influence of novel forms of visual technology, mainly the Internet and digital technologies, on contemporary legal practices and on law's epistemology.
  5. As a recent contribution to the broader terrain of "law and" disciplines, we will conclude by assessing the distinctive contribution of "law and film" to interdisciplinary legal scholarship at large.


One research and reflective paper (5,000 words): 100%; optional class participation 10% (in which case the paper will count 90%).

Contact hours

Students will have 36 contact hours of instruction meeting in 3-hour classes over 3.5 weeks. The private study for class will be between 6-9 hours pre-assigned materials and review of the last class for each 3-hour class.

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