Expected to attend: Co-directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White, Subjects Kris Perry & Sandy Stier and Paul Katami & Jeff Zarrillo, Subject Rob Reiner, Producer/Cinematographer Rebekah Fergusson
It has all the drama of fiction: former opponents who join forces to fight for a just cause, a witness recanting on the stand, late nights combing through thousands of pages of documents, and even a cameo from the President. But it’s no Hollywood melodrama—it’s a riveting account of the epic five-year legal battle that overturned Proposition 8.
Co-directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White (Good Ol’ Freda) make superb use of five years of nearly unlimited access to the plaintiffs and their legal team, paring down hours of observational footage, interviews, and news clips to tell the inside story of this landmark civil rights case. And what a story they have to tell. When the American Foundation for Equal Rights hired conservative lawyer Ted Olson to argue the case for marriage equality, shockwaves went through both ends of the political spectrum. Olson then brought in liberal lawyer David Boies, whom he’d met when the two argued at the U.S. Supreme Court on opposite sides of the Bush v. Gore election dispute. The movie takes us behind the scenes to reveal how this unlikely pair helped make legal history.
The true heroes of the film, however, are the four plaintiffs. Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo were chosen after an exhaustive background investigation, spent countless hours preparing to be cross-examined, and endured years in the public spotlight—facing not only press conferences but also threatening hate mail and phone calls—while the case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal complications mount, but the directors never lose sight of their four protagonists and the human cost of being treated, as Jeff Zarrillo puts it, “as a second-class citizen.”
Even if we know how the story ends, experiencing the drama up close through this extraordinary you-are-there documentary has us holding our breath as the lawyers plead their case before the justices. And isn’t that how we want a big Hollywood movie to end? With a wedding, obviously—in this case, two joyous and long-awaited celebrations of love and pride.
— Monica Nolan
AT&T Audience Award Text Voting Code: D306
The Commonwealth Club of California
National Center for Lesbian Rights