Filmmaking and the narration of history have been engaged in a complex relationship ever since the early days of filmmaking. Many films tell stories unfolding in previous times or about actual historical events, and their narration of history is often criticized as inaccurate, fictitious, or even intentionally misleading. When a highly publicized film suggests a controversial narrative of a certain chapter in history, a debate usually follows in the public arena, be it as part of the ongoing intellectual discourse or even in a political context. At times, however, the public debate is translated into legal terms. The article focuses on the difficulties confronting the attempt to apply legal regulation to historical films argued to be false—either by using private law causes of action, such as defamation and infringement of privacy, or by recourse to administrative censorship powers. The recent and highly controversial film Jenin, Jenin by the Israeli-Palestinian actor and filmmaker Muhammad Bakri, which professed to tell the story of residents of the Jenin refugee camp during an Israeli military operation, is used as a case study. In general, the courts insist on avoiding decisions on historical facts even when dealing with serious arguments about distortions in specific films. The article supports this judicial policy on the grounds that courts and governments should refrain from restraining freedom of speech based on arguments of truth and falsity. Yet, it also points to the inevitable disadvantages of this viewpoint given that the marketplace of ideas, particularly in the debate around realistic film making, is controlled by actors who have the power to shape collective memory.
Administrative Law | Comparative and Foreign Law | Constitutional Law
Date of this Version
Daphne Barak-Erez, "The Law of Historical Films: in the aftermath of Jenin Jenin" (July 2008). Tel Aviv University Law Faculty Papers. Working Paper 89.