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In law, the true explanation for a past event is often impossible to establish given a lack of witnesses or other verifying evidence. In place of the truth, the legal system is therefore often forced to rely upon the derivative explanations of lawyers which, whether true or not, are merely the most believable explanations for past events based upon the accumulated evidence or testimony available. To ensure the integrity of these explanations, the law of evidence and procedure filtrate the evidence which may be utilized in such explanations. Finally, the presentation of such explanations is standardized in the language and structures of the adversarial system which predictably pits the competing explanations of the prosecution and the defence against each other. The system which emerges is complex and not easily understood by the general public.
One consequence of such a complex system is the mystification of the legal system in the eyes of the public. With this film I concern myself with what I see as the systemic disconnect between what the legal system sees itself as doing and what the uninitiated public sees the legal system doing. To the public, the prosecutor’s “theory of the case”, the prosecutor’s crafted explanation for how and why a crime was committed, is often interpreted as truth; a truth derived from what is assumed to have been a logical and unbiased analysis of only that evidence which has some bearing upon the case to be tried. To my mind, a problem arises where these constructed explanations are accorded the status of truth.
The film is a portrayal of a murder trial from the early 1930s. The events of the trial and the preceding investigation are conveyed through the presentation of collected photographs with a documentarial voiceover. The journalistic voiceover is representative of the traditional role of the media as the translator of legal process and its outcomes for the public. The voiceover takes an active role in mediating the events of the trial, transforming the unintelligible processes of the court (see transcript portions in the film) into an entertaining and lively restaging of the prosecution’s constructed explanation of how the murder took place.
As the film progresses and the prosecution’s case continues to develop, it may become clear that there are inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. In fact, much of the content of the explanation and the conclusions reached by the prosecution appear to even defy common sense. In the end, regardless of the ‘gut feeling’ the prosecution’s explanation may leave one with, the film is intended to provoke one to question the legitimacy that is complacently given to explanations which, though determining whether or not an accused will go to prison, may ultimately be completely unconnected to what actually happened. The film is intended therefore to problematize the legitimacy of legal process and speech as necessarily being objective and truthful.
This film is the final product of a year long (2009/2010) directed research project between the film's director and Professor S. Wexler of the UBC Faculty of Law.
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