Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hot Coffee

On the 1st full day of programming at the SF International Film Festival, I attended the sold-out screening of Hot Coffee, a debate-provoking documentary about the civil justice system, directed by lawyer Susan Saladoff. The film begins by asking us what we know about the infamous $2.7 million cup of hot coffee from McDonald's, then disabuses us of the idea that it is a comical & frivolous lawsuit. Through the stories of 4 families, the film shows how pro-business lobbyists influence legislation & the judiciary to prevent ordinary people from challenging corporations in court. I like the way the film shows all its subjects in their homes, demonstrating the direct impact of somewhat abstract legal issues.

The film is dense with information & proposes simple questions we should probably already know the answers to but don't. What are torts & why are they apparently in need of reform? What is this U.S. Chamber of Commerce we always see on political ads? A particularly gruesome & outrageous segment chronicles the unsuspected consequences of signing a mandatory arbitration clause.

Ms. Saladoff was present & told us that she made the movie explicitly to educate the public. She spoke with passion & urgency. Programmer Sean Uyehara moderated the Q & A, conscientiously repeating each question for us. Some complimented the film & others offered critical suggestions about the music & how certain topics were covered. At one point Ms. Saldoff had to cut off members of the audience who began to debate one another. A show of hands demonstrated that everyone who had thought of the McDonald's case as a frivolous lawsuit was moved to think otherwise by the film.

§ Hot Coffee
Susan Saladoff, director
USA, 2010, 88 min

San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Fri, Apr 22, 6:30 / New People
Mon, Apr 25, 6:30 / Kabuki
Tue, Apr 26, 2:00 / Kabuki
Tue, May 3, 4:00 / Kabuki

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