Document Type



29 Colum. J.L. & Arts 107 (2006)


This Article explores side-by-side two contemporary and related film trends: the recent popular enthusiasm over the previously arty documentary film and the mandatory filming of custodial interrogations and confessions. The history and criticism of documentary film, indeed contemporary movie-going, understands the documentary genre as political and social advocacy (recent examples are Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 and Errol Morris’s Fog of War). Judges, advocates, and legislatures, however, view films of custodial interrogations and confessions those that reveals a truth and lacks a distorting point of view. As this Article will explain, the trend at law, although aimed at furthering venerable criminal justice principles, holds a fairly naïve view of film’s indexical relationship to the lived world and abjures consideration of the contemporary trend in cinema. Understanding the documentary as truth-revealing is a mistake, a mistake which can frustrate (if not undermine) the criminal justice goals of the legislative policies. Understanding the impulse to film custodial interrogations as an impulse born through documentary filmmaking transforms it from revealing a truth (of guilt or lack of coercion) into transforming (an image of) the world into one that is favored by the filmmaker.

Whatever may explain the convergence of filmmaking in the precinct house and a penchant for mainstream documentary movie-going, the trends are shaping contemporary expectations about film in contradictory ways. Investigating these trends together exposes competing norms regarding film as a legal tool and as a knowledge producing discourse. It also situates the criminal justice trend in the context of a long history of filmmaking and critical spectatorship. In light of the growing use of film as a policing mechanism, better understanding of film as both an art and a legal tool is in order.

Date of Authorship for this Version

August 2005


criminal justice, film, custodial interrogations, confessions, recording, video, audio