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CMS 397 A: Special Topics In Cinema And Media Studies

Cinema on Trial: Courtroom and Film Culture

Course Flyer: 
Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 1:30pm - 3:40pm
THO 125
Qian He

Syllabus Description:

CMS 397 course poster


Cinema on Trial: Courtroom and Film Culture

Course Number: CMS 397 A: Special Topics in Cinema and Media Studies

Time: MTWTh 1:30-3:40 pm   (MW: Class Screening Days; TTH: Seminar/Discussion Days)

Location: THO 125

Instructor: Belinda Qian He (

Office Hours: by appointment

Note: This is a course that fits into different credit requirements: Individuals and Societies (I&S); Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA), Writing Course (W).



Rooted in the long literary and visual cultural history of crime and punishment, this course examines image and justice, film and law, as a compelling twist. It revolves around the idea of “cinema as show trial,” namely, the working of cinematic encounter as both a show and a trial. What kinds of truths are fabricated within the trial scene in film and beyond? What realities are created and what realities dismantled through cinema and moving images? How do images “move us” and what a “just response” to them might be enabled/questioned? What kind of judgmental spectatorship is constructed and performed? Are we even allowed to view what is being exposed? With these questions in mind, this course considers the “courtroom” as both a visual, spatial metaphor and structuring principle in the multitude of fiction film, documentary, video art, and critical literature from different countries and periods.

This course explores films and images that take trials as the central theme, as well as the role of cinematic medium plays in producing trial-like encounters that render the condemned visible, make/execute the truth, and put spectators on trial. It intends to inspire students to rethink the aesthetical, social and ethical power of cinema, as a response to the global constant reasoning, arguing, and struggling about the adequate and legitimate images of atrocity and violence in the era of conflict and witness.


Main Film Texts

Selected scenes from The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928 by Carl Theodor Dreyer (France, 114 min)

Fury 1936 by Fritz Lang (USA, 92 min)

The Trial 1962 by Orson Welles (France/West Germany/Italy, 118 min)

Death by Hanging 1968 by Nagisa Ôshima (Japan, 117 min)

Punishment Park 1971 by Peter Watkins (USA, 88 min)

Repentance 1984 by Tengiz Abuladze (Soviet Union, 153 min)

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On 1987 by Kazuo Hara (Japan, 122 min)

The Thin Blue Line 1988 by Errol Morris (USA, 101 min)

Bamako 2006 by Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali/France/USA, 115 min)

Grandmother (Lola) 2009 by Brillante Mendoza (Philippines, 110 min)

The Missing Picture 2013 by Rithy Panh (Cambodia/France, 92 min)

12 Citizens 2014 by Ang Xu (China, 108 min) (associated with American, Japanese, Russian Versions of Twelve Angry Men)

Court 2014 by Chaitanya Tamhane (India, 116 min)

The Look of Silence 2014 by Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark/Norway/Finland/UK, 99 min)

Along With the Gods: Two Worlds 2017 by Kim Yong-hwa (South Korea, 120 min)


Additional Clips, Shorts, and Other Moving Images

Lingchi: Echoes of a Historical Photograph 2002 by Chen Chieh-jen (Taiwan, 23 min)

Whose Eyes 2011 by Tan Tan (China, 16 min)

White Bear (Black Mirror Season II E2) 2013 by Carl Tibbetts (UK, 50 min)

Clips from A Trip through China 1917 by Benjamin Brodsky (USA)

Clips from The Day of Wrath 1943 by Carl Theodor Dreyer (Denmark), Salvatore Giuliano 1962 by Francesco Rosi (Italy), To Kill a Mocking Bird 1962 by Robert Mulligan (USA), The Confession 1970 by Costa-Gavras (France/Italy), The Accused Uncle Shangang 1994 by Fan Yuan (China), True Grit 2010 by Coen Brothers (USA), Dancer in the Dark 2000 by Von Trier (Denmark), Chicago 2002 by Marshall (USA)

Clips from Black Venus (Vénus noire‎) 2010 by Abdellatif Kechiche (France/Belgium, 159 min)

Clips from The Eichmann Trial 2015 by Paul Andrew Williams (UK, 90 min)

Clips from La commune (Paris 1871) 2000 by Peter Watkins (France, 345 min)

Clips from The Verdict (Terror – Ihr Urteil) 2016 by Lars Kraume (Germany, 85 min)

One episode from What Would You Do? (ABC News series)

Alternatives: Twelve Angry Men (American, Japanese, Russian, Chinese Versions)

A couple of video essays

And one film that students would like to suggest for the class.



  • Class Participation: 40%  

(Leading Discussion 10%, Presentation 10%, Class Discussion 20%)

  • Shared Annotated Bibliography: 20%  (each one student proposes and shares several sources he/she finds interesting and relevant to the films discussed in class: at least one film and three scholarly essays)
  • One-page Proposal 10%
  • Final Creative Academic Project: 30%  (screenplay/storyboard/film-related graphic novel/video essay/photo essay/film still dossier/exhibition design/mini film festival curatorial project/movie review/critical essay, etc)
  • Additional writing assignments (OPTIONAL): In this course, the instructor will explain the writing requirements for those students who wish to receive W credits. Students who complete the additional requirements will receive Ws on their transcripts; the other students in the course will recive VLPA/I&S instead.



Some of the films we examine in this course contain graphic images of violence, death, and explicit sexual content. Please be aware that you do not have to watch anything that you find disturbing. Use discretion and feel free to stop right away. If you don't feel comfortable about any image, please let me know. The unbearable images, self-conscious acts of looking away, and the ethics of spectatorship indeed serve as part of our critcial inquiries in this class.


Catalog Description: 
Varying topics relating to film in social contexts. Offered by resident or visiting faculty.
Department Requirements Met: 
Cinema & Media Studies Elective
GE Requirements Met: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
April 13, 2018 - 10:03am