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Midyear Attendees Get Special Showing of Robert Redford's New Film 'The Conspirator'

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Robert Redford directs James McAvoy.

An unusual must-do took midyear meeting attendees slightly off script, as they took in special viewings of The Conspirator, a soon-to-be-released film that tells the little-known story of Mary Surratt and the young lawyer who represented her on charges of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

The film’s producers and the ABA sponsored special showings of the film, set for release on April 15—the 146th anniversary of Lincoln’s death the morning after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre.

The film and the issues it raises about the rule of law during national crisis were also the focus of a program sponsored by the standing committees on Public Education and Member ship: “In Time of War Do the Laws Fall Silent?”

The production is the first from the American Film Co., said the company’s chief operating officer, Alfred Levitt. He is a former partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Washington, D.C.

Levitt said the company is the brainchild of Joe Ricketts, who founded Ameritrade and a number of other ventures. The idea of the American Film Co., Levitt said, “is to bring incredible, true stories from American history to life on the big screen.”

Levitt said the producers hope to reach an untapped audience of filmgoers who are interested in great stories based on real events. They’ve already found support in the filmmaking community.

The Conspirator was directed by Robert Redford; and among its stars are Robin Wright, who plays Surratt, and James McAvoy as Frederick Aiken, the young lawyer who reluctantly represents her. The cast also includes Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson and Evan Rachel Wood.

“All of our first picks we got,” said Levitt. “These guys want to make this kind of movie—with plot, character and dialogue. There are fewer opportunities to get a project like this.”


As depicted in The Conspirator, Surratt’s trial by a special military commission appointed by President Andrew Johnson—who also was targeted for assassination—raises questions about the conflict between national security and the rights of individuals.

Screenwriter James D. Solomon said he had been working on the script since 1993. “I was writing about a human, and I think timeless, story about the relationship between Mary Surratt and her attorney,” Solomon told a packed house at the program. “The ideas about law and security were more abstract. But after 9/11, they were less abstract.”

The American Film Co. already has another film in development. Midnight Riders tells the story of Paul Revere and his companions. It is, Levitt said, “a little more of a swashbuckler.”

The ABA has no formal involvement with the film, but Levitt said the producers see lawyers as part of its core audience, and bringing attention to important legal issues is part of the ABA’s larger mission.

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