• Law Professor Plays Herself in Award-Winning Film
Attorneys Josh Cohen, lead counsel for the city of Cleveland, and Law Professor Kathleen Engel in film putting banks on trial in foreclosure crisis.

4/5/2012

A request to advise the city of Cleveland in a legal case led to a role in the award-winning film “Cleveland Versus Wall Street” for Suffolk Law School Associate Dean Kathleen Engel.

The pseudo-documentary portrays a court case involving 21 banks that Cleveland lawyers deem responsible for the foreclosures that have brought their city to its knees.

Engel, a nationally recognized authority on foreclosure issues who is advising the city of Cleveland on the real lawsuit at the base of the film, plays herself.

Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron contacted Engel about four years ago after seeing her quoted about subprime lending in the media.

“At first Jean-Stéphane planned to make a documentary covering the case, but we convinced him that it would be many years before the lawsuit was resolved and he would starve to death in the meantime,” said Engel. “So, he decided to stage the trial that Cleveland is seeking to have, using real people and no scripts at all.”

Engel, whose recent book The Subprime Virus deals with the issues addressed in the case, will speak following a screening of the film at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at Suffolk Law School, 120 Tremont St., Boston.

She and Massachusetts Deputy Attorney General Chris Barry-Smith will discuss recent efforts to hold Wall Street firms responsible for irresponsible lending. Barry-Smith is responsible for consumer affairs in the attorney general’s office and was involved in securitization claims against investment firms through which more than $200 million have been recovered.

From the time Bron arrived in Cleveland -- with a translator, because he did not speak English -- through the Cannes film festival, where the movie premiered, Engel was one of a few trusted advisers who helped him “to vet his concepts and put together the cast, all while we were educating him on mortgage lending, U.S. politics, the law and trials.”

Engel helped Bron connect with key players who could tell him the story of Cleveland’s struggle with abusive lenders and the aftermath of high-risk lending. Her legal expertise served as a valuable resource for the director as he considered how to present Cleveland's story in film, identified people who would be good witnesses, and considered story-telling transitions, such as the film’s closing commentary.

“The most fun of all was helping him celebrate the film's extraordinary success at Cannes,” said Engel.

It may have been serendipity that brought Engel together with Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron, but “telling Cleveland's story, the making of the film, and the new friends I made turned the experience into a highlight of my life,” she said.

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