Public screening of 'Out of the Ashes' set for Jan. 24

(December 14, 2010) Alumni and community members are invited to a public screening of and discussion about the compelling documentary "Out of the Ashes" from 4:30-7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, at Seattle University School of Law.

The film by Seattle University School of Law Professor Marilyn Berger explores the controversial September 11th Victim Compensation Fund created to reimburse those who were injured or lost family members in the terrorist attacks. "Out of the Ashes" examines the legal, moral and ethical ramifications of the Victim Compensation Fund and its impact on the civil justice system. The film, which was produced by Professor Berger through her Films for Justice Program at the law school, is a powerful story that asks difficult questions about whether the Fund offered justice to survivors and their families.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Dean Mark Niles of the School of Law; Dean Mark Markuly of the School of Theology and Ministry; Law school Professor from Practice John McKay; and SU Political Science Professor Angelique Davis.

The federal government created the Victim Compensation Fund - the largest public entitlement program in history - just 11 days after the attacks. It eventually distributed more than $7 billion to more than 5,500 families.

"Out of the Ashes" tells the stories of seven 9/11 families and how they struggled to make sense of the tragedy - and how they chose to deal with the Fund that was designed to help them put their lives back together. They include a retired firefighter whose son was one of 343 firefighters killed; the widow of the co-pilot of Flight 93; a woman whose husband was killed, and whose journey was further complicated because her husband was an undocumented worker; a widow of an insurance agent who rejected the Fund and felt compelled to file a lawsuit in order to demand answers and accountability; a same-sex partner of a woman who died in the Twin Towers who battled for recognition as a same-sex partner survivor; and the family of a woman who died from respiratory disease caused by the toxic dust created by the collapse of the towers.

The film explains how the Fund was created and implemented, portraying both its strengths and its weaknesses. Featured interviews include Kenneth Feinberg, the Special Master of the Fund, who is now overseeing the $20 billion fund to pay claims related to the BP Gulf oil spill. He speaks candidly about the difficulty in persuading victims to give up their right to sue, the problems created by ambiguity in the law that established the Fund, and how the heart wrenching stories affected him as he struggled to essentially put a price tag on a life, over and over again.

The film raises important questions: Did the Fund undermine the legal system, as its critics claim? Or did it offer victims a way to avoid the extraordinary cost, complexity and excruciatingly slow pace of a lawsuit? And if the Victim Compensation Fund was the right thing to do, do those affected by other tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, the Oklahoma City bombing, and other disasters also deserve compensation? If so, is this Fund, with its methods for calculating the value of a human life, an appropriate model?

Berger, who made an expanded version of the film that includes discussion questions and a Teachers' Manual, is available to law schools to purchase for curricular use. See the film website: 

Berger is a nationally recognized expert in trial advocacy. She is the director of the Comprehensive Trial Advocacy Program and the Films for Justice Institute at Seattle University School of Law.

She established the Films For Justice Institute in 1996 and produced three educational documentary films in the series "Lessons from Woburn" about a lawsuit brought by families in Woburn, Mass, alleging contamination of their drinking water. The original participants appear in the documentary, based on the lawsuit, Anderson v. W.R. Grace, the book by Jonathan Harr, "A Civil Action," and the Hollywood movie by the same name. The films are used in more than 100 law schools.

She is co-author of Pretrial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis, and Strategy;  Trial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis, and Strategy and Trial Advocacy:Assignments and Case Files. Professor Berger lectures and writes in the areas of advocacy, gender, film and the law, exploring issues about the relationship of storytelling and its intersection with law.

Read more about the film. Watch a trailer.  

Students in the School of Law Annex