Reflections on the Jessup and the Filming of ALL RISE
Jay Shapiro, Director, ALL RISE
What were your first impressions of the Jessup?
JS: I remember seeing the orientation room for the first time and being so awestruck that I had to remind myself to keep filming. The sheer number of countries represented is staggering. I felt an immense sense of optimism and hope realizing that this many smart, motivated, energetic students were dedicating themselves to a process that is important and urgent to the world. As an outsider I felt a desire to understand the language of law. I feared that I would need to conquer some of the basics in order for me to be accepted into the community, but I found everyone I encountered eager to invite me into the process. I felt welcomed. It was clear to me very early on that my preconceived notions about “lawyers” were going to shift in the best way possible.
What do you think the Jessup means to the future of international law?
JS: The analogy I like to use is to describe the Jessup as an incubator for the future leaders and shapers of the world. I was able to witness some profound transformations of students, whom I now consider friends, in such a condensed period of time. I think we all recognize the growing urgency of an effective model of international law to our rapidly changing world, and the personal evolution of the students who will be designing and navigating that model needs to be accelerated. The Jessup is a tremendously effective accelerator.
You and the crew travelled to film the teams during the early stages. What was that like?
JS: I will probably work on films the rest of my life and never encounter such an incredible itinerary. When you bounce around the world in the way that my crew and I did, the world suddenly becomes simultaneously smaller and bigger. The fact that you could be in Siberia one day and Singapore in a blink is something that shrinks the world in terms of distances, but only being able to occupy one space at a time makes the world seem vast. Having this duality swimming in my head informed the context of the Jessup in important ways during my interviews and filming with the students.
What types of things did you do to make the students comfortable with being filmed? How did you get started with each team?
JS: Upon landing in a new country, my first effort was to get the entire Jessup team together at an informal gathering, for example, grabbing a pizza or hanging out at a coffee shop. Sometimes we jumped right into a Jessup practice. The first order of business was for all of us to talk openly about our objectives with the film. It is a bit jarring to have a camera shoved in your face, especially at a stressful time like law school and Jessup preparations. I always wanted to respect that intrusion.
ALL RISE is a “character-driven” film rather than a “competition” film. What does this mean?
JS: We set out to tell the story of the Jessup from a “character up” perspective as opposed to a “competition down” approach. To try to do this in a limited amount of time we asked students to open up to us on fairly deep levels. We wanted to find their true motivations and the life shaping moments that an uninformed viewer could relate to. The students we filmed were incredibly gracious in this regard.
We did our best to immerse ourselves in their lives in the Jessup as well as their activities outside of the Jessup. We were looking for the analogies in their lives. Part of our motivation was to show that Jessup participants are more than just the Jessup even if they dedicated 99% of their time to it. Students were surprised when we would ask to tag along on their morning running routines or dancing lessons, but drawing the parallels of these activities to the way students approached the Jessup was illuminating. Sometimes the way someone folds their laundry is surprisingly similar to the way someone prepares a legal argument.
Did you sense commonalities among Jessup team members regardless of culture or country?
JS: The lives of the students in Palestine and Singapore and Uganda could probably not look more different in terms of personal, societal, political and economic experience, but one thing was consistent in every place: they all had a “Jessup room.” This room looked pretty much the same and was home to very similar conversations. It was usually tucked away in some corner of a university library and had stacks of international law books and white boards with arguments of jurisdiction boundaries and webs of complex legal arguments. This commonality was undeniable and powerful to witness.
How did the students approach their preparations?
JS: In those Jessup rooms, the students were passionate and hard working. We filmed students studying into the early morning hours in every country, often times juggling loads of additional coursework. These students wanted to do well in this competition, but it seemed to be important to them on another level. They didn’t want to just win, they wanted to learn. That enthusiasm was contagious and incredible.
What did you see as the mix of individual work and teamwork?
JS: I got the sense that teamwork is a much more important factor in the Jessup than people realize. It is certainly an individual endeavor to read the books and study the relevant cases, but the teams that struggled to communicate among each other struggled to make cohesive arguments. The teams that were able to work together and push each other with respect achieved a symbiosis that resulted in confident argumentation and eventually success in the competition.
Talk about some of the individual sacrifices you saw students make.
JS: I would constantly hear from students who knew that their school work outside of the Jessup was suffering. Sometimes I would hear that their romantic relationships were strained. Sometimes they would forgo visits home on breaks to stay at the school and study. All of these sacrifices were admirable, and the students who achieved the proper balance of life and Jessup without burning themselves out inevitably got the most out of the experience. It became clear to me that the Jessup competition, whether by design or happenstance, is not just a legal competition but a competition about navigating life.
Teams typically pay their own way to the International Rounds. How do they raise the money?
JS: It seems that every team approaches the fundraising challenge differently. Some teams enjoyed direct support from their schools and didn’t worry about this. Some teams had to put great effort into drawing support from local businesses and law firms, even producing pamphlets and other print material to help publicize their fundraising effort. One of the hopes for this film would be to help assist teams with this challenge with a new accessible way to tell the Jessup story.