Yale Law Students Win Acclaim As Filmmakers
When applicants get accepted to Yale Law School, probably the last thing they expect to learn is how to make movies. But there's a small group of students who spend nearly as much time with a camera as they do studying caselaw and prepping for final exams.
The member of Yale's Visual Law Project are making documentary films about legal and policy issues, such as prison conditions, immigration and racial profiling. Last year, one of the films, entitled "The Worst of the Worst," about a Connecticut prison that keeps inmates in solitary confinement year-round, was submitted for consideration to the Sundance Film Festival and profiled on MSNBC.
Making documentaries is "a unique opportunity to enhance studies but with an intangible real world impact," said Leslie Couvillion, co-director of the student-run Visual Law Project. "A lot of what we do in law school isn't that accessible to the outside world."
Couvillion said the idea of pouring energy into something that is distributed to a general audience as opposed to just fellow law students and law professionals "was really exciting." Plus, "I really cared about the issues as well."
The Yale Visual Law Project was launched in 2010 by then-law student Valarie Kaur, who already had a background in filmmaking. Kaur had written and produced 2008's "Divided We Fall," a feature film that focused on racism in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the winner of more than a dozen international awards.
During her time at Yale, Kaur trained more than two dozen other students on various aspects of documentary filmmaking. But now she has graduated, and this academic year things are a little bit different.
"I think it's a challenge because none of the people on the team now are professional filmmakers," said Jessica So, director of story development for the group. "It's also given us a lot of opportunity to step in and take ownership of what we're doing and get hands-on experience. We do it all — the interviews, the filming, all the production, post-production."
The Visual Law Project group consists of eight to 10 students, all law students, save for one Yale undergraduate. There's an academic component, where students "explore the intersection of film and law," according to the group's website, through discussions, workshops and appearances by guest speakers.
But the focus is largely on documentary films that have ranged anywhere from a half-hour to about 70 minutes.