Entrepreneurship and First Amendment Clinics Help Documentarian Bring Film on Redlining to the Screen

Filmmaker and Ithaca resident Lizzy Barrett (on the right) with others at the premiere of her film Divisible.

In early 2021, filmmaker and Ithaca resident Lizzy Barrett approached Celia Bigoness of Cornell Law School’s Blassberg-Rice Center for Entrepreneurship Law about a documentary she was making through her startup, Equity Media. Two and half years later, with help from both the Blassberg-Rice Center and the First Amendment Clinic, the film Divisible has had a limited test release, and a forthcoming final version is poised to bring the story of redlining to more screens.

Redlining, the policy of designating some areas of cities for financial support while excluding others, overwhelmingly populated by people of color, for disinvestment and decline, was ostensibly ended with the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet both the practice and its repercussions have persisted. Through interviews with experts and people personally affected, Divisible explores the history of redlining and its ongoing impacts. 

Finalizing, promoting, and bringing the film to screens has involved a host of legal tasks. The Entrepreneurship Clinic has advised Barrett on copyright issues, trademarks, and branding; set up fiscal sponsorships; and drafted contracts. After initial work on the project, Bigoness also brought in the First Amendment Clinic for a comprehensive preproduction review of the film footage to identify and work through any potential copyright issues. 

While these tasks assisted the documentary on its way to fruition, they also helped clinic students build core skills like contract drafting, legal research, and problem-solving. “Lizzy has been operating on a shoestring budget, making a documentary that focuses on institutional racism in America, so she has had plenty of obstacles on her path,” says Bigoness. “The law students have gained experience in helping their client identify and navigate around those obstacles.” 

Zach Zaremba ’22, who contributed to the project during his two years in the clinic, says, “Working with Lizzy was great because of her professionalism—she was always well prepared for our meetings, which helped give us the opportunity to provide more detailed advice. I also enjoyed working with her because we were able to learn about an important subject, particularly one that I didn’t have much prior knowledge of.” 

The project represents the first time that the Entrepreneurship and First Amendment Clinics have jointly represented a startup media client. Since then, they’ve collaborated to help several others. “These joint engagements are an opportunity to pool our collective areas of expertise to assist journalists at a time when their industry is rapidly changing. They also allow the students in each clinic to broaden their skill set and gain exposure to different areas of the law,” says Bigoness.