SIFF 2014: A Great Documentary About the Legal Challenge to Proposition 8

The Case Against 8

(Ben Cotner, Ryan White, 112 mins, USA 2014)


In front of the U.S. Supreme Court (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

This tear-jerking documentary follows the challenge to Proposition 8, from the day Prop 8 passed in 2008 to its journey through the California Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals, and finally, the U.S. Supreme Court — a process that took six years.  What makes it so good is that, while it pays attention to the legal arguments and dramas that make up this case,  it doesn’t forget that the main focus is the people involved, not the issue at hand.  These  people include staunch conservative Ted Olsen and liberal David Boies, who found themselves unlikely allies as the legal team set to argue the case for the plaintiffs (they had argued against each other in Bush v. Gore, which ultimately gave the presidency to George W. Bush).  More importantly, it focuses on the two couples who were carefully vetted by the legal team to server as the plaintiffs: Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo.  To say that they are wonderful people is an understatement, and if more people saw gay people as people, as opposed to this group or that group, this fight never would have had to be waged in the first place.

In fact, my only criticism of the film is one I’ve seen before: jagged lines that occur, I imagine, when low-res digital cameras are used, ones more suited to a small screen.  Since this movie is intended for TV, it may explain why some of the images look fuzzy on a big screen.


(l-r) David Ward, Monisha Harrell, Roger Leischman, Ryan White, and Dustin Kaspar

Director Ryan White came to the screening I saw on Saturday, along with the following panel members: David Ward: Legal Voice, Monisha Harrell: Board President, Equal Rights Washington, and Roger Leischman: ACLU-Washington.  The moderator was Dustin Kaspar, Education Programs Manager for SIFF, who also introduced the film.  Like most of us, he was pretty emotional as he started the panel and thanked White for making this film (and I have to say, of all the Q & A’s I’ve seen at SIFF, this is the only one I can remember where the moderator became emotional).  Much of the panel discussion centered around the work that still needs to be done (implementing marriage laws, healthcare rights, access to benefits for gay couples) and what we can do to help (gay people telling their stories over and over and over, to be shared among their straight friends).  Also, unusual for a film made for a TV release, HBO is also planning a theatrical release in June (it will be shown on HBO on June 23).