The first of today’s Sundance 2014 docs: From the US Documentary Competition, Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s THE CASE AGAINST 8, which follows the fight for marriage equality all the way to the Supreme Court.
Sundance Program Description:
Election Day 2008: Californians passed Proposition 8, a measure that repealed the right of same-sex couples to marry. This documentary takes us behind the scenes of the high-profile trial that overturned the controversial constitutional amendment. The case first made headlines with the shocking alliance of lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, political foes who last faced off on opposing sides in Bush v. Gore. The plaintiffs are two loving gay couples who find their families at the center of the same-sex marriage controversy.
Filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White gain unparalleled access to the key players in the controversy and provide fly-on-the-wall coverage of a trial the public was never allowed to see. Shot over five years, this extraordinary film offers unprecedented insight into our justice system and the often mysterious process of taking a case to the Supreme Court. Chronicling one of the most significant civil rights battles in our nation’s existence, THE CASE AGAINST 8 puts the viewer in the driver’s seat of history in the making.
This marks Cotner’s filmmaking debut, but he’s no stranger to the industry as a long-time acquisitions and production executive at Open Road Films and Paramount before that. White’s two previous features, PELADA and GOOD OL’ FREDA, both debuted at SXSW. The pair received support for the project from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. The film also counts among its producers co-producer Rebekah Fergusson, who previously worked with White as a director/cinematographer on PELADA, and associate producer Carin Bortz. An HBO Documentary film, the project is overseen by supervising producer Sara Bernstein, whose most recent Sundance projects include last year’s WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? and 2010’s 12TH & DELAWARE and SECRETS OF THE TRIBE; and executive producer Sheila Nevins, whose countless Sundance projects include fellow 2014 US Competition title CAPTIVATED and last year’s GIDEON’S ARMY, LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM, THE CRASH REEL, WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE?, and MANHUNT. Acclaimed editor Kate Amend has had several past films in Park City, including THIN (2006), and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET (2006), while editor Helen Kearns also co-produced and edited White’s GOOD OL’ FREDA.
Why You Should Watch:
From the beginning of the case, Cotner and White gained exclusive access to Olson and Boies, and the plaintiffs, resulting in a long-established trust that is reflected on screen. For a legal battle that was hyperscrutinized in the media over the past several years, the filmmakers smartly avoid constructing false suspense and instead focus on the individuals at the center of the fight for marriage and their reactions to being part of the historic struggle for equality. The result is at the same time an empathetic and humanistic portrayal of two appealing couples and their families seeking equal recognition under the law, and an utterly fascinating exploration of brilliant legal minds strategizing and arguing one of the most potentially influential cases in decades.
To keep updated on the doc, check out its Facebook page and stay tuned for its website, still in development. Check out Cotner and White’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.