playing_god_pageThemes and Key Words:
Society, Biography
Running Time:
52′ | 90′
Bildersturm Productions
Karin Jurschick


Shortly after 9/11, the US Congress passed a law to protect US airlines from decades of civil law suits and created a fund for compensating victims of disasters who agreed not to sue. Lawyer and mediator Ken Feinberg had to decide how much money was to be received as compensation. He met family members personally doing thousands of interviews. He thought that the value of a life was an easy calculation: how high is the economic loss? How old was the person, but Feinberg discovered that facing those left behind was far less easy. This is Feinberg’s story of highly emotional dilemmas as told by himself, as he took the role of ‘Playing God.’


A film about a charismatic lawyer acting as an interface between capital and justice, about US politics and about people who have suddenly lost their loved ones, their health or their livelihood.

Why is the life of a fire-fighter who died a hero in the Twin Towers on September 11 worth on average a million euros 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? These are questions that almost appear cynical, but not for America’s most famous compensation specialist: Ken Feinberg.

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, the US Congress decided to pay compensation to all victims or their families who agreed not to go to court. ONE man was appointed to have sole responsibility for that money: lawyer and mediator Ken Feinberg.

In 1984 the Agent Orange case made Feinberg a household name overnight: In the US 250,000 Vietnam veterans sued a number of chemical companies and demanded compensation for death, injury and disease. Feinberg successfully served as special master in the litigation.

Hardly a national tragedy has befallen the USA without Feinberg being called upon to play his part. The film takes a close look at Ken Feinberg. Who is this man who is applauded as a modern-day King Solomon and criticised as a heartless Pay Czar? We accompany him on his current high-profile cases. We recall his most challenging cases. We speak with politicians who call in Feinberg when a new disaster strikes, and we interview friends and enemies. We also pay a visit to the victims’ families. Do they feel that they have been fairly treated by America’s “special master”?

PLAYING GOD reveals what happens within our Western system of values when economic interests and people’s lives become intertwined by tragedy.


Karin Jurschick was born in Essen and studied Theater, Film and Television at the University of Cologne. Co-founder of the international women’s film festival Feminale in Cologne, she also worked for five years as an editor for the culture department of the Stadtrevue Cologne monthly magazine. Also active as a writer for radio and television, her award-winning films include: It Should Have Been Nice After That (2000), The Peacekeepers and the Women (2003), After the Murder of Theo van Gogh (2005), Not Anymore (2006), an episode of 24 Hours Berlin (2008), Certificate In German (2009), The Cloud, Chernobyl and Its Consequences (2011), and On the Rail of Evil (2012).

Bildersturm Filmproduktion was set up in Cologne, Germany, in 1993 and has produced more than 50 documentaries for cinema and public national and international broadcasters such as ARTE, ARD, WDR, NDR, SWR, RBB and ZDF. The company currently produces about eight 45’ to 90’ films a year. Bildersturm has built up an international reputation: Many of its films have been shown at international film festivals and were sold to international broadcasters such as NHK, RTBF, Canal+, HRT, SF, Noga, RSI, YLE, TVP, VRT, Aljazeera, DR, SVT.

The award winning cinema documentary film The Lawyers – A German Story by Birgit Schulz ranked among the top five German documentaries of 2009 and has won the Phoenix documentary price and two Grimme awards. The focus and editorial line of Bildersturm’s productions are creative documentaries on socio-political, cultural and art-related issues.

Several Bildersturm cinema documentaries celebrated their theatrical release between 2013 and early 2016, such as Richard Deacon – In Between by Claudia Schmid, The Price of my Life by Peter Scharf, DOMIAN – Interview with Death by Birgit Schulz, The Promised Land by Birgit Schulz and Luzia Schmid and Voices of Violence by Claudia Schmid. In March 2016 Karin Jurschick’s film War and Games celebrated its world premiere at the One World Festival in Prague and in 2017 Claudia Schmid’s new film For All the World to See will be released in Germany.

The focus and editorial line of Bildersturm’s productions are creative documentaries on socio-political, socio-historical and cultural and art-related issues.

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