Running Time: 7 min 35 sec
I’ve been interested in judicial service for a long time—the daunting responsibility of it, the chance to look inside the justice system, the human stories at the center of any case. After serving on a case in 2003, I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow we’ve got the wrong message circulating about this piece of democracy. Voting, somehow, is celebrated, even sexy. But jury duty, where your judgment is direct, your voice is heard, your debate welcomed, brings out only dread. Dread, and an astonishing amount of energy toward getting out of serving.
In 2007-2008, I decided to make a piece of work that would draw out what’s so interesting about the process, once you’re impaneled. I’d read that there’s a big gap between American perceptions of jury duty in the abstract (negative, hoping to get out of it), and our perceptions once we’ve served (much more positive, with a willingness to serve again).
And I’d recently finished my MA in European history, where all the talk had been about the mysterious, hard-won, imperfect and philosophically deliberate ways our current democracy, including the jury-of-peers system, was invented. So I wanted the work to be a tool for this imagination gap: our failure to understand how radical, how historically rare it is to grant power of judgment to ordinary citizens. And our failure to imagine what our decision means to the fate of a stranger.
I interviewed 16 people in Los Angeles, each of whom had served on at least one case—none of them on the same trial. From over 18 hours of footage, I tried to pull glimpses of the funny, shocking, and moving stories they each told me. They further animated my own imagination about the importance of the practice, such as it is, for better and for worse.
I’ve shown the film in gallery settings, and I’m applying now for grants to get the film in public forums for discussion and feedback. I’d love to hear your ideas for the film’s use if you have them.