Whenever catastrophes occur in the US, compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg is called upon. Playing God reveals what happens with values when economic interests and people's lives become intertwined by tragedy. Shortly after 9/11, the US Congress passed a law to protect US airlines from decades of civil law suits and created a fund for compensating victims of disasters who agreed not to sue. Lawyer and mediator Ken Feinberg had to decide how much money was to be received as compensation. He met family members personally doing thousands of interviews. He thought that the value of a life was an easy calculation: how high is the economic loss? How old was the person, but Feinberg discovered that facing those left behind was far less easy. This is Feinberg’s story of highly emotional dilemmas as told by himself, as he took the role of ‘Playing God.’
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A film about a charismatic lawyer acting as an interface between capital and justice, about US politics and about people who have suddenly lost their loved ones, their health or their livelihood.
Why is the life of a fire-fighter who died a hero in the Twin Towers on September 11 worth on average a million euros less than that of a stockbroker who lost his life in the same disaster? How much money should oil giant BP pay the countless fishermen on the Gulf of Mexico who are fighting for their livelihoods in the wake of the largest oil spill in history? How can hundreds of ailing Vietnam vets be compensated for their suffering, which stems from exposure to Agent Orange? These are questions that almost appear cynical, but not for America’s most famous compensation specialist: Ken Feinberg.
After the attacks on 11 September 2001, the US Congress decided to pay compensation to all victims or their families who agreed not to go to court. ONE man was appointed to have sole responsibility for that money: lawyer and mediator Ken Feinberg.
In 1984 the Agent Orange case made Feinberg a household name overnight: In the US 250,000 Vietnam veterans sued a number of chemical companies and demanded compensation for death, injury and disease. Feinberg successfully served as special master in the litigation.
Hardly a national tragedy has befallen the USA without Feinberg being called upon to play his part. The film takes a close look at Ken Feinberg. Who is this man who is applauded as a modern-day King Solomon and criticised as a heartless Pay Czar? We accompany him on his current high-profile cases. We recall his most challenging cases. We speak with politicians who call in Feinberg when a new disaster strikes, and we interview friends and enemies. We also pay a visit to the victims’ families. Do they feel that they have been fairly treated by America’s “special master”?
PLAYING GOD reveals what happens within our Western system of values when economic interests and people’s lives become intertwined by tragedy.
hotDOCS Toronto - Worldpremiere
Kasseler Dokumentarfilm and Video Fest
17th WATCH DOCS Human Rights in Film IFF, Warsaw
20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
- Director Karin Jurschick
- Producer Birgit Schulz (Bildersturm), Annemiek van der Hell (Windmill Film, CoProduction )
- Director of Photography Timm Lange
- Associate producer Rolf Bremenkamp, Monika Mack
- Editor Anika Simon
- Sound Pascal Capitolin
- Score Han Otten