The Case Against 8 has an advantage over a lot of documentaries in that it was filmed while the outcome of its story was still very much in doubt. Following the developments of Proposition 8—the California referendum that banned same-sex marriage in that state after a brief period of legality—the film taps into the palpable nervousness of those interviewed, and their suspense proves contagious to the audience. That The Case Against 8’s story involves one of the biggest civil rights court cases in U.S. history only raises the stakes.
Ted Olson and David Boies, lead lawyers in the landmark Bush v. Gore case, had become good friends and discovered they both felt gays should have the right to marry. When lesbian couple Kris Perry and Sandy Stier—seen in the film at their joyful wedding reception—suddenly found themselves unmarried, and when the wedding plans of Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, a gay couple, were blocked, Olson and Boies chose the two couples to be their plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn Prop 8.
The Case Against 8 has two missions: to clarify the legal and political issues as Olson and Boies’ case moves from the California Supreme Court in 2011 to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court in 2012 and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, and to tell a good story with appealing characters and a strong plot. Directors Ryan White (who also made Good Ol’ Freda, which played at MFF 2013) and Ben Cotner do a terrific job of zig-zagging back and forth between the film’s historical issues and personal aspects. They make the former lucid for the non-lawyers in the audience, and the latter as compelling as any fictional narrative.
It helps that the six main characters are so likable. Republican lawyer Olson good-humoredly shrugs off the teasing from all the leftist lawyers on the case, while Zarrillo and Katami are so much in love they can’t keep their hands off each other. As they wait for the verdict in each case to come in, all six are squirming with both hope and dread, and we’re squirming right along with them.
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