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Boca International Jewish Film Festival: ‘The Trials of Alan Dershowitz’ presents behind-the-scenes look at the famed defense attorney

Alan Dershowitz in his study. (John Curtin/Courtesy)
Photo courtesy of John Curtin
Alan Dershowitz in his study. (John Curtin/Courtesy)
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The Southeast U.S. Premiere of the documentary film, “The Trials of Alan Dershowitz,” will be presented by the Boca International Jewish Film Festival. The screening will take place on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. at The Studio at Mizner Park.

Both Alan Dershowitz and director/producer John Curtin will present a Q&A session following the film.

“The Trials of Alan Dershowitz” presents a behind-the-scenes look at Dershowitz’s private life and the inside story of some of the most controversial cases of our time. Dershowitz has represented America’s most hated defendants and makes no apologies for it.

“If you don’t like criminal defense attorneys, just imagine living in a country without them, like Iran or the former Soviet Union,” Dershowitz says in the film.

Ahead of the film’s premiere event, both Dershowitz and Curtin expressed why the film was created.

“I’ve had a very interesting and controversial life, and a lot of people do not understand what motivates me,” Dershowitz said. “In making the film, John wanted to reveal the complexity of being a criminal defense lawyer. What I want audiences to take away from seeing the film is the principles behind my life choices. I’ve always felt it necessary to defend the underdog. My hope is that the audiences will understand that when you’re a civil liberties or criminal defense lawyer, you live in a complex world. People are going to be strongly opposed to you in some areas and supportive in others”.

“While making a short profile of Alan for another film, I discovered that nobody in America had done a feature documentary about him,” Curtin added. “The scope of Alan’s career has really no parallel in recent American legal history. Both as a professor and a defense attorney, he’s one of a kind. He  taught 10,000 students at Harvard Law School, litigated some 250 cases and has written nearly a million words a year for more than half a century. The film presents a previously unknown glimpse into Alan Dershowitz’s life. Alan is one of America’s best-known and enduring talking heads. From ‘Firing Line’ with William Buckley to ‘Nightline’ with Ted Koppel to Charlie Rose to Piers Morgan and many other shows, he’s been a constant presence on U.S. television for 50 years. But if you only know Alan from TV interviews and debates, you probably think he’s an aggressive and quarrelsome man. Seeing him in real life is quite a different matter. I think it’s this personal side we show in the film, which may surprise a lot of viewers. It’s rare that you get to talk to somebody as articulate and persuasive as Alan — not just when he’s speaking about the law but on practically any subject. He’s incredibly erudite and has an original and surprising take on just about anything. He’s a fascinating person to interview. As a Canadian, it was an enticing but also daunting prospect to tackle this larger-than-life American icon. More than five years of shooting and 2,000 hours of editing later, we have a film!

“I hope people come away from the film with a more nuanced view of Alan,” he continued. “You may not always agree with him, but his point of view is always interesting and worth considering. Many people think of him as simply the lawyer who defended Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein. That’s a tiny, tiny part of his 60-year career as a teacher and advocate. Remind yourself that a lawyer is not the person he represents. Criminal lawyers’ stock-in-trade is sordid people. It’s their job! Alan’s career is so much bigger than Trump or Epstein. Think of his incredible work back in the 1960s as a young clerk to Justice Arthur Goldberg, when he helped draft a memorandum declaring the death penalty unconstitutional. It’s a seminal moment in American legal history. Executions in the U.S. were halted for a decade saving the lives of hundreds of mainly Black inmates. Think of all his work defending Soviet Jewry. Although I can understand the consternation some Jews have felt over Alan’s more controversial clients, surely it’s time to rethink the stigmatizing, silencing and deplatforming of him.”

Dershowitz expressed his dedication to the defense of Israel and the Jewish people.

“I’ve been supportive of Israel from the time I first attended a Zionist summer camp. This was in 1948, the year Israel gained its independence. I support the nation legally, politically and morally. My interest in law began when I was Bar Mitzvahed. My Torah portion was Shoftim. The parsha has two strong admonitions: You must pursue justice and do justice blindly without regard to who the person is and whether they are liked or disliked. Justice, as expressed in Shoftim, is one of the eternal religious obligations of Judaism.”

Dershowitz shared some of his landmark cases.

“Among my notable cases included defending Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky. He was sentenced to what amounted to life imprisonment in a Soviet prison. I devoted many years pro bono trying to get him freed, which I eventually succeeded in doing. Sharansky was one of the most significant cases in my career. I have taken on all sides of the political and economic spectrum. Other controversial people I have defended included Meir Kahane, O.J. Simpson, Leona Helmsley, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Ted Kennedy, among others. I have taken on many unpopular cases with the perspective that someone has to do it. I can’t say no. I’d like to think of myself as following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, who took on many unpopular cases. You could also go back to Abraham, who defended the sins of Sodom. It’s a long tradition.”

Dershowitz shared his words of wisdom.

“I would like to be remembered for being a man of principle who didn’t deviate from his principles for popularity. We live in a world of division where people pick sides. We have to be able to debate and discuss issues and still remain friends.”

Tickets for “The Trials of Alan Dershowitz” are $36 per person and available at .The Boca International Jewish Film Festival will be presented from Feb. 25 through March 17, 2024.

 

 

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