Documentary Film Legal Clinic Shines at Sundance

Three students in UCLA Law’s Documentary Film Legal Clinic won a round of applause from movie industry insiders in a packed theater at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where they attended the premiere of The Cost of Silence, a documentary about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

During an onstage Q&A session that followed the screening in Park City, Utah, director Mark Manning pointed out the UCLA Law contingent — Michelle Banayan ’21, Graham Fenton ’20 and Keegan Hawkins ’21, plus clinic director Dale Cohen and associate director Daniel Mayeda ’82 — and thanked them for their legal support in making the film, including vetting its complex journalistic issues. Later, audience members circled the students to learn more about the innovative clinic.

From its home in the Ziffren Institute for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law, the clinic partners with organizations including Film Independent, the International Documentary Association and the Sundance Institute to pair students with filmmakers who need legal help to bring their projects to the screen. Much of their work in the year-long clinic focuses on matters including contract drafting, fair use of copyrighted material, and reviewing scripts and footage for libel concerns.

At Sundance, the students watched several documentaries; soaked up the atmosphere of the massive festival that is the center of the motion picture universe every January; and met with a number of filmmakers, discussing the issues that their movies presented and whether the clinic should take them on as clients. “I came to law school with the hopes of helping creatives in the film industry,” said Hawkins, who was eyeing a career as an entertainment lawyer, “and it’s amazing that the clinic offers exactly this experience and opportunity.”