A man who robbed a Houston bank as a teen seeks redemption for his past. A pair of same-sex couples takes their case for legal recognition to the nation’s highest court with help from two eminent attorneys. An East Texas landowner and a group of activists try to defy the odds and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

These and other real-life stories found a home on screen as part of the 2014 South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, which took place March 7-15 in Austin.

Tucked among the festival’s 133 feature films were a number of law-related documentaries, including several with Texas ties.

Below, we highlight six films whose stories touched on legal themes.


Evolution of a Criminal

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The Case Against 8

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Above All Else

Driven by concerns about his family’s safety, East Texas landowner David Daniel wages an unlikely fight against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in director John Fiege’s Above All Else. A former high-wire performer, Daniel builds a network of platforms and shelters in the trees above his property, hoping to block progress on the massive pipeline project by staging a tree-sit with a group of environmental activists. Hazards emerge—legal and physical—and tension builds as the characters are forced to decide how much they’re willing to endure for the cause. Metroplex residents can catch Above All Else on April 4-5 as part of the Dallas International Film Festival.


Other films













Director Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible explores the toll of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill through the stories of survivors, Gulf Coast residents, and industry executives. The film, which won the SXSW Grand Jury Award for documentary features, makes the case that the disaster’s effects still linger for many, even if media attention has waned.

The Internet’s Own Boy documents the case of Internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in 2013 at age 26 while facing computer fraud charges for downloading millions of copyrighted academic journal articles. The film, from director Brian Knappenberger, raises questions about the fairness of the federal prosecution and asks viewers to ponder whether society suffers lost knowledge when publicly funded research and documents are kept from the public domain.

Vessel, from director Diana Whitten, follows Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts in her quest to challenge some countries’ strict anti-abortion laws by offering abortion-inducing drugs to women aboard a ship offshore, in international waters. The film won both the SXSW Audience Award for documentary features and the Special Jury Recognition for Political Courage Award.

Images courtesy of, from top, John Fiege, The Great Invisible, and Vessel