Indiana Court Brings Its History to the Big Screen
In 2016, the state of Indiana celebrated its bicentennial with major statewide events, commemorative memorabilia, and appearances from famed celebrities who hail from the Hoosier state. Doria Lynch, court historian and special projects manager for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, began planning a second celebration, of the federal court’s own bicentennial in 2017.
After two years of work, the result is “And Justice For All: Indiana’s Federal Courts,” a feature-length video documentary, complete with compelling use of reenactments, expert interviews, and professional cinematography. It has been cut into both an hour-long full-length version and a classroom version separated into seven shorter segments.
“This film helps kids and adults alike understand that justice isn’t just a concept or idea, but an achievable outcome for individuals who have been wronged,” said Lynch. “I believe viewers walk away knowing that the federal Judiciary plays an important role in the lives of everyday people.
The full-length version of the video is available on YouTube. The classroom version is posted to Vimeo, and the court’s website also has a 74-page teacher’s guide that contains activities based on the film.
Lynch spoke with Judge Sarah Evans Barker, Senior District Judge for the Indiana Southern District about the proposal to create a video, and the two agreed that the Historical Society of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana would take the lead in fundraising for the project. With help from the court’s Historical Society, Lynch researched other court film projects, and the Historical Society hired Gudaitis Production of Bloomington, Indiana.
After much deliberation, Lynch and the filmmakers decided to convey the court’s history by recounting three key cases that addressed especially stormy events.
Ex parte Milligan, involving a Southern sympathizer at the end of the Civil War, led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that U.S. citizens may not be tried by a military tribunal while civilian courts are functioning. United States v. Frank Ryan, et al (1912) convicted 38 participants in a nationwide bombing conspiracy during the birth of union labor. And United States v. Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis (1968-2016) involved the use of busing to desegregate public schools.
“It was difficult deciding which three cases to use,” said Lynch. “It came down to some key factors, including accessibility to court records. All three of these cases had available documentation, they each had national significance, and they translated well on film.”
While many federal circuits and some districts have historical societies, and some focus on historic cases, full-scale historic videos remain rare. Earlier in 2017, the Ninth Circuit released “Not to Be Forgotten,” a video on the World War II Japanese internment cases. And the Second Circuit’s “Justice for All” website provides historic-case reenactment materials for classroom and other audiences.
Lynch had always planned for the Indiana project to be used for educational purposes, and made sure all of the information in the documentary was compatible with the Indiana Department of Education social studies curriculum. Lynch is publicizing the video to social studies and history teachers across the state.
Though the film is completed, the pride of its accomplishment remains alive and well in the Indiana Southern District. Judge Barker has nothing but praise for the film’s creator.
“It was a great project,” Barker said. “And it was all Doria’s effort. She was the head. She took this from beginning to end.”
Lynch has set her sights on the video’s long-term impact.
“My vision was to make this project both educational and entertaining, and we accomplished that. Now, this has to be a legacy project. I want it to live beyond the bicentennial celebrations.”
Related Topics: Public Education