Home>The Ph.D. Law & Cinema Club: Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer From Paris to Denver


The Ph.D. Law & Cinema Club: Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer From Paris to Denver

Louis Hill, Vittoria Becci, Mathilde Baril-Jannard, Alexia Katsiginis, Edward van Daalen

You are doctoral students at the Sciences Po Law School and host the "Law & Cinema Club". Can you tell us more about this project?

The three of us, in different moments, were active members of the Law and Film club during the last years. Louis Hill and Vittoria Becci joined the club in 2020 when Edward van Daalen was the “curator”, while Alexia Katsiginis joined in 2021. Vittoria has been the main curator and organiser of the club from 2021 helped and supported by Alexia and Rashmi Dharia. Recently the team was joined by a new member : Thibault Mechler. The story of the club is a nice one: Vittoria, that was there since the beginning, can explain it better. 

Vittoria Becci: There are some important turning points in the story of the club. The first starts with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020; the second is the change of format of the seminars; the third is the aim to create a community that goes beyond one University’s walls and gathers law and film clubs around the world. In our case, and for now, it has created an impressive community between Sciences Po Law School and McGill Law School. What follows is a more detailed and complete story. 

The Law and Cinema Club

I became familiar with the Law and Cinema club as soon as I arrived at the Law School. At that time, both PhD students, faculty, and part of the administration were based at the 4th floor and the wall in front of the conference room (410T) was like the morning newspaper. It was there that I saw a flyer on the upcoming event of the Law and Cinema Club. I couldn’t believe that in a law school, there was space for cinema!

Edward van Daalen, a visiting PhD student, was in charge of everything. It was, as it still is, a monthly informal gathering open to everyone. The basic idea was that after a long day of reading and writing, the club was able to offer a playful and creative space where one could watch movies about legal cases and freely discuss them.

The programme at the beginning was conventional law and film topics, both on known and lesser-know territories. It is worth mentioning films such as Sydney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men; Abderrahmane Sissiko’s Bamako, or Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court. The Club was soon transformed by an unexpected global event. When the Covid-19 pandemic exploded in 2020, it became clear that the emergency situation wasn’t a matter of weeks but probably years, and both Louis and I contacted Edward because we didn’t want the club to end. We discussed a way of keeping it alive. Following this will, we decided to move the club online as a zoom gathering. The first obvious move was to eliminate the screening, we asked people to watch the film beforehand and to join the zoom for a discussion on the main topics. In this transitional phase, we experimented with a more transversal and alternative filmography. We discussed Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman; Erik Gandini’s The Swedish Theory of Love; and The Eichmann Show directed by Paul Andrew Williams.

We soon realised that without the dynamism and immediate effectiveness of the moving image, something was missing. That’s when Louis proposed to invite a legal scholar to introduce a film, to create a more active discussion. He invited Geoffrey Samuel, emeritus professor of law and a real cinephile! We had chosen for him Alfred Hitchcok’s Birds. This new format was definitely better. After that, I invited the political philosopher and movie expert Camil Ungureanu to talk about The Batman Saga and Edward brought to us Orit Kamir, one of the finest Law and Film scholar that we know. The discussion related to women in Law and Film and Pedro Almodòvar’s High Heels. We closed the semester with Elie Aslanoff’s presentation about Le juge et l’assassin directed by Bertrand Tavernier. 

Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer

At that moment, we came to realise that there was an important personal aspect to consider when legal scholars talk about films. And also that the format “presentations followed by a debate” was more a limit than an advantage. We needed a more dynamic interaction with our guests. For the 2021 Intensive Doctoral Week, which due to the ongoing pandemic became on online channel, we edited a documentary with three interviews on Law and Film that we called: “Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer”. The three main questions were what is your personal relationship with cinema?; what is cinema potential for law and legal reasoning?; what are the limits, the implications, and the future of law and cinema? And we asked them to three professors: Geoffrey Samuel, Orit Kamir, and Helena Alviar García

After the documentary, we realised that these questions had to be part of the seminars, and that the solo-presentation of the guest had to be eliminated. For the next semester, we started with an open talk with our guests, starting from a more personal story, and then moved on to a broader presentation of their impressions of the film that they chose for the seminar. That was the moment when we presented the title “Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer”. 

Sciences Po, McGill, and the fanzines

The following semester, we regained the communal spaces after two years of pandemic, and at that point I was the only one that remained on site at Sciences Po. After long calls, Edward (arrived at McGill Law School for a postdoctoral position) and I decided that we wanted to continue this project together. For this reason, we kept it online with some screenings in our respective universities. It was a big effort to create a community both online and on campus on two different continents, but it was also part of the fun.

I then came up with the idea of a fanzine for each film we screen or discuss to keep up the spirit, and around this art and craft sessions, a larger group of anonymous contributors formed. In the academic year 2022/2023, when Alexia and Rashmi joined the group, we created fanzines and discussed films such as Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino and ; Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction; Kelly Richardt’s First Cow; Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma; Holy Motors directed by Leos Carax; The Swimmer by Frank Perry. Each of these were the pick of our guests: Gunter Frankenberg, Alberto Rinaldi, Severine Dusollier, Helena Alviar García, Nathan Moore, and Andreas Philippopoulos Mihalopoulos

You've just returned from a trip to Denver and took part in the Law and Society association event. Can you tell us about this wonderful experience? 

For all of us this was a first experience in a big conference and the first time at Law and Society Association Conference. We presented a panel on the Law and Film Club “Eating Popcorn Like a Lawyer”, and our upcoming book. It was also the first time that we were all together in a physical space (we organised the panel with Edward and Mathilde Baril-Jannard from McGill). Each of us would like to add some personal impressions about this experience.

Louis Hill: The Law and Society gathering was a wonderful experience. I attended several seminars, mainly related to the institution of the jury. I have recently become more and more interested in lay justice and have begun writing about it. Being able to talk about this with scholars working in America, where the jury is so central, was very insightful. Concerning the Law and Cinema panel, I thought it was very enriching to have an American perspective on the matter. The use of films within Critical Race Theory projects was particularly interesting.

Alexia Katsiginis: I attended my first Law and Society conference this year, which brought together over 2,500 researchers from across the world working on the intersection between law and society. Professionally, the conference allowed me to make connections with researchers working in my field. I met scholars who have been central to my own research, as well as other young scholars whose work overlaps with my own. A community of researchers who have encountered relatable challenges both in their research and when entering the job market makes it easier to navigate the often complicated terrain of academia. Moreover, the panel on which I presented was an excellent opportunity to publicise and discuss our upcoming book on Law and Film, to which a number of doctoral students and professors from the law school contributed. The panel provoked interesting discussions about academic freedom, legal pedagogy, and aesthetics. 

Vittoria Becci: Attending the Law and Society conference was exciting. I had the chance to meet in person and listen to some of the main authors I have only encountered through their books and articles. I also met some new scholars that fascinated me. Not only that, but I mostly attended panels on the use of audiovisual methodology in legal research, legal consciousness, and queer theory. These are topics relevant to my research and my interests, and to have the opportunity to have them discussed all at once was wonderful. With our panel on law and film, we also contributed to a debate on the visual and the humanities related to law. We had a very exciting discussion on ways of teaching, and the meaning of the images in law. The fact that the conference was in Denver (Colorado, USA), so far away from European ways of debating and interacting, was also a formative experience. 

How do you plan to continue this experience and what are your plans for the future? 

Academic life is always on the move. Someone will leave, some other will stay, but hopefully some new PhD students will continue the tradition and let it evolve. To create continuity was one of the missions of the club, the one that also led us to write a book inspired by this seminar.

With a first big support expressed by Gunter Frankenber, the book is edited by Edward van Daalen, Alexia Katsiginis and I, and contains contributions from Sciences Po professors and PhD students such as Severine Dusollier, Helena Alviar, Louis Hill, Elie Aslanoff, Alberto Rinaldi. We hope that this book, that will be published at the beginning of 2025 by Routledge, will contribute to a field that we believe need to be reinvigorated and to promote taking the time to eat popcorn while watching, looking, observing and thinking like a lawyer. We also hope that the book will contribute to have more law and film club in law schools to broader the debate in law and humanities. 

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