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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