Secrets of the Jury Room,
video, 53 mins, screening on SBSTV 8.30pm 15 July 2004.
145 mins, rated PG, opening in cinemas in Sydney and other capital
cities on 2 September 2004, other cinemas to follow. Screening on
SBS TV in early 2005.
This year, the 51st Sydney Film Festival showcased more than 280
feature films, documentaries and short films. Two documentaries in
particular deal with issues that will interest lawyers.
Secrets of the Jury Room is an Australian documentary directed by
experienced documentary-maker Aviva Ziegler. This is a
fascinating experiment designed to show how juries really work.
Of course, no one can film the deliberations of a jury in a real-life
trial, so the film makers set up a fictional criminal trial, presided
over by retired Supreme Court judge George Hampel QC, and with real
barristers Tom Molomby SC and Elizabeth Fullerton SC. A young man
is accused of killing his terminally ill lover. Was it suicide,
assisted suicide, murder, manslaughter, or death by accident? We
see an edited version of the mock trial that was held over one weekend
at Sydney’s historic Darlinghurst Court.
The role of the judge, the barristers and the witnesses is minimal: the
film’s focus is firmly on the juries. What makes the film work is
that the filmmakers empanelled two juries to hear the same
evidence. It is the contrast between the juries that tells us
most about how they work. For example, most jurors seem to make
up their minds almost straight away, and vigorous debate begins as soon
as the doors close behind the jury.
The filmmakers faced an enormous editing job. It must have been a
logistical nightmare to reduce around 36 hours of film to one.
The process took 12 weeks. But the material is presented coherently –
even if the facts are a little rushed at beginning. There is so
much interesting material in the hour that it could well have been
expanded into a mini-series.
Another documentary that will interest lawyers is The Corporation, a
Canadian film that examines the phenomenon of the corporation from
various angles: historical, legal, and even psychological (a
personality test diagnoses the corporation as a psychopath!).
That, of course, indicates the critical standpoint of the filmmakers:
they are generally against the corporation, and they roam all over the
place finding damning evidence against it. There are around 40
talking heads to listen to, from Professor Noam Chomsky and
documentary-maker Michael Moore to Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former
Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell and Tom Kline, Vice President of Pfizer
At nearly 2 1/2 hours, it’s a long film. At times it drags,
mainly due to what I see as a weakness of structure and
organisation. There are headings aplenty to divide the film up,
but they don’t reveal an analytical structure. The filmmakers
just keep piling evidence up against various corporations, attempting
to incriminate “the corporation” itself.
Given its length, The Corporation could have done with more historical
background, a more rigorous legal examination of the corporation, and
perhaps fewer examples of “bad” corporations. And some of the
filmmakers’ assertions are questionable. For example, the film
begins with the statement that “150 years ago, the corporation was a
relatively insignificant entity.” What about the South Sea Bubble
and the British and Dutch East India Companies? What about the
great British corporations formed by Royal Charter? Lawyers will
find other things to quibble with as well. And that’s interesting
in itself since the writer, Joel Bakan, is a law professor with degrees
from Oxford, Dalhousie and Harvard Universities. But despite my
reservations, I found The Corporation to be an ingenious, entertaining
and visually creative look at an entity that impinges on all our lives,
both professional and personal.