Conference 2012: Short Films with Big Impact

In the session “Good Things Come in Small Packages: Using Short Films to Teach Diversity, Access, and Fairness Issues,” a wide range of short films were shown to illustrate the educational power that can be packed into brief recordings. NASJE President Joseph Sawyer and communication consultant Kelly Tait co-facilitated discussions following each film, including topics such as what can be gained or lost by the way a film/topic is introduced, when disclaimers are needed, and deciding how to sequence activities. In particular, the necessity for providing enough time for debriefing films that might cause a major emotional reaction in some participants was explored.

Throughout the session, the short films were related to Kolb’s Learning Cycle. The facilitators emphasized that one of the strengths of using films—and short films in particular—is that you can quickly reach participants at the “experience” level and that participants then share the experience, which can be built on in the rest of the session as educators move participants through Kolb’s different modes of learning. They pointed out the value of this especially with diversity, access, and fairness issues, where perspectives often need to be broadened.

The series of short films shown during the session included documentaries and works of fiction. They ranged from under two minutes to thirteen minutes, short enough amounts of time that typical judicial education sessions could easily accommodate them. Just a few of the topics the films addressed were: diplomacy, interpretation, and gender-related cultural differences via a story about two senior diplomats from the U.S. and Iran and their interpreters (“Diplomacy”); substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness via a visually creative documentary about Ryan Larkin, an Academy Award winning Canadian animator (“Ryan”); and professional roles, ethics, and the toll of vicarious trauma via a fictional story about a photojournalist who wins an award for a photo she took in a war-torn country (“One Hundredth of a Second”).

The facilitators asked questions such as: How might you use this short film? How is it relevant to what judges see in court? What are the possible drawbacks of using it? What kind of “set-up” would make the film most effective? What would be the best way for viewers to process the topic and the story?

Participants shared their perspectives about the use of the particular short films that were viewed as well as ideas for other films that might be effective. The session included a discussion of sources for short films, some technical tips for accessing them, and other ideas for using films such as these to add impact quickly to judicial branch education sessions that involve diversity- and fairness-related topics.