Playing God

A film by Karin Jurschick.

Why is the life of a fire-figh­ter who died a hero in the Twin Towers on September 11 worth on avera­ge a mil­li­on dol­lars 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? How can hundred thou­sands of reti­rees who depend on a small pen­si­on be com­pen­sa­ted if the pen­si­on fund they trus­ted in fai­led due to mis­ma­nage­ment? These are ques­ti­ons that almost appear cyni­cal, but not for America’s most famous com­pen­sa­ti­on spe­cia­list: Ken Feinberg.

Shortly after the ter­ror attacks on September 11, 2001, the US Congress crea­ted a fund to com­pen­sa­te all vic­tims who agreed not to go to court. ONE man was appoin­ted to have sole respon­si­bi­li­ty for deci­ding how much com­pen­sa­ti­on was to be recei­ved by peo­p­le accor­ding to their indi­vi­du­al cir­cum­s­tances: Ken Feinberg. He offe­red to meet all vic­tims or their fami­lies per­so­nal­ly. However, his cal­cu­la­ti­on model cau­sed uproar among many of them who felt that the value of their lost loved ones could never be com­pen­sa­ted with money.

In 1984 the Agent Orange case made Feinberg a house­hold name over­night: 250,000 Vietnam veterans who spray­ed the toxic defo­li­ant over the jungle and who later suf­fe­r­ed from seve­re dise­a­ses sued the che­mi­cal com­pa­nies that had pro­du­ced this sub­s­tance. Feinberg mana­ged to nego­tia­te an out-of-court settlement.

However, it was the 911 com­pen­sa­ti­on fund that tru­ly made him a star. Since then, hard­ly a natio­nal tra­ge­dy has befal­len the USA wit­hout Feinberg being cal­led upon to play his part. We will focus on a sel­ec­tion of his major cases: Agent Orange, 911, the Wall Street crash, the BP oil cata­stro­phe and a new one: the immi­nent cuts in the Central States Pension Fund.

All of them are not only tur­ning points in US histo­ry, but also ask troubling ques­ti­ons for all of us, worldwide.

PLAYING GOD is more than just the sto­ry of a con­tro­ver­si­al man who at times seems vir­tual­ly omni­po­tent: What hap­pens within our Western sys­tem of values when eco­no­mic inte­rests and people’s lives beco­me intert­wi­ned through tragedy?


D 2017, 90 Min.

Regie: Karin Jurschick
Buch: Karin Jurschick und Birgit Schulz
Kamera: Timm Lange
Schnitt: Anika Simon
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PLAYING GOD – Offizieller Trailer