Film & Video
2 min

The case against Prop 8, and other queer picks

Hot Docs heats up

Equal-marriage activists demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court in The Case Against 8. Credit: credit goes here
North America’s biggest documentary film festival kicked off in Toronto on April 24. Charlotte Cook, director of programming at Hot Docs, talks to Daily Xtra about the LGBT highlights. Among the most anticipated films are To Be Takei, The Case Against 8 and the recently remastered classic A Portrait of Jason.

When Ben Cotner and Ryan White first began shooting The Case Against 8, they weren’t entirely sure they had a film on their hands. Charting the lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8, the pair’s project began with a basic desire to record history.

“For the first year, there wasn’t any real conversation about the final product,” Cotner says. “It was about documenting the process in case the lawsuit snowballed into something historic. It wasn’t really until the Supreme Court took the case four years in that we definitely knew we had a film.”

“It’s not fun shooting 600 hours of footage without knowing if you really have a movie,” White adds. “But that comes with the territory when you’re making a film about a court case.”

The story begins on the eve of Nov 4, 2008, the same day Americans elected Barack Obama. This is also, of course, the day Proposition 8 passed, reversing the California Supreme Court’s decision from May that year and halting marriages for same-sex couples in the state. The Case Against 8 follows the process in forensic detail, from the first musings about a lawsuit in a Los Angeles restaurant, through finding plaintiffs, selecting a legal team and, ultimately, through the SCOTUS decision to uphold a lower court’s ruling and return the right for marriage equality to the state.

Both the film and the lawsuit hinge on the odd-couple partnership of Ted Olson and David Boies, previous adversaries in the Bush versus Gore political battle in 2000, which ultimately saw George W Bush become president. As articulated in the film, the choice to bring together counsel from both parties in the case was seen as a means to make marriage equality a non-partisan issue.

Though the film serves as an in-depth look at the legal process and the five-year record of one group of people’s lives, for the filmmakers it’s ultimately something bigger.

“It’s about taking bold, sometimes risky moves to stand up for your rights,” Cotner says. “We think that’s a message that’s universal and that will hopefully resonate, even in countries like Canada that are beyond the marriage-equality debate.”

More queer picks

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story After decades of fighting for his country, decorated American Navy SEAL Chris Beck explores liberty and personal freedom in a new way as he embarks on his most challenging mission ever: transitioning and beginning life as a woman.

To Be Takei Starship Enterprise helmsman George Takei discusses his various personas, from William Shatner’s nemesis to gay sex symbol, while preparing his dream project: a musical based on his childhood inside a Japanese-American internment camp.

Portrait of Jason Part of the Redux program, Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film tells the story of an African-American street hustler and aspiring cabaret singer in his own words. Shot over a single 12-hour day in the subject’s New York living room, this seminal piece of cinéma vérité explores race and class unlike any film before or after it.