Last year was a landmark year for LGBT rights. Aside from many states legalizing same-sex marriage, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union between a man and woman, for the purposes of federal matters, such as income taxes. SCOTUS also decided that Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, thereby allowing LGBT couples the right to marry in that state.
The Case Against 8 offers a behind-the-scenes look inside the process of the historic case. The film follows the plaintiffs, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, who were at the forefront of the controversy.
Directed by Ryan White, director and producer of Good Ol' Freda (Magnolia Pictures), a film about the Beatles' longtime secretary Freda Kelly; and Ben Cotner, an executive for Paramount Pictures whose worked on such films as An Inconvenient Truth, The Case Against 8 is an honest and unbiased look at one of the most important cases in United States history.
The film will premiere on HBO on Monday, June 23. We spoke with White and Cotner about Florida's stance on LGBT issues, and winning the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award at SXSW.
Cultist: Give us some more details about The Case Against 8.
Ryan White: The film follows the federal lawsuit against Prop 8, which took away same-sex marriage in the state of California, all the way from its inception in 2009 to the eventual overturning by the US Supreme Court in June 2013. It's a character film following the two lead attorneys, who were known as political adversaries since they last faced off in Bush v. Gore, and the four plaintiffs and their families who find themselves at the center of the storm.
What do you feel is the message of the film?
Ben Cotner: We didn't set out to make a film that said whether same-sex marriage was right or not. It was really approached more as the documentation of a group of people taking action to defend their rights. In that sense, the message is probably that standing up for your rights is a difficult but important thing to do. regardless of what you are fighting for.
Were there any difficult or emotional moments during the shoot?
BC: We were lucky that Ryan was able to film Kris and Sandy's wedding in San Francisco, and I was simultaneously filming Paul and Jeff's wedding in Los Angeles. After spending four years getting to know these great people and seeing their hard work culminate in such a beautiful moment - that day was hard not to put down the camera and join in the celebration.
Documentaries aren't known for their timeliness. What inspired you to take this project on as it was happening?
RW: As gay Californians, we obviously felt the effects of Prop 8 firsthand, and so the issue is meaningful for us. But as story-tellers, we were drawn to the idea of making a film that pulls back the curtain on the often mysterious process of taking a case to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are the heart of the film, so we thought it would be fascinating to follow the process, what it's like for two regular couples to suddenly find themselves as the spokespeople for an incredibly controversial issue.
Does the case resonate with either of you personally?
BC: We are both from states where marriage equality has, until this year, never even come close to a reality. Living in California, we were very affected by Proposition 8, but I think in a broader sense confronting some of the discrimination that we have experienced in our own lives, and seeing those issues dealt with in a court of law in a very methodical way was a very surreal and unforgettable experience.
What was your favorite moment during filming?
RW: There were so many incredible moments throughout the five years of shooting that it's hard to choose a favorite, but one of the most special moments was getting to film the weddings of Kris and Sandy, and Paul and Jeff when Prop 8 was overturned. We had been following their families so closely and watched the ups-and-downs that they went through by being involved in the lawsuit. It was incredibly moving to watch them reach the finish line of this journey.
What kind of response has the film received?
BC: The response so far has been incredible. We were thrilled to win the Directing Award at Sundance and the Audience Award at SXSW, but the real thrill has been from hearing audiences talk to us after each screening about how they relate to it and how it has inspired them.
How do you feel about The Case Against 8 being part of MGLFF's line up this year?
RW: We're really excited about showing the film in Florida, which is obviously a state that still grapples with the issue of marriage equality. But on the flip side, we're also very excited to show it in a city as diverse and LGBT-friendly as Miami where we know the audiences will be passionate about the issue.
Will you be coming to town for the festival? Ever been? Any plans?
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RW: Unfortunately, we cannot visit the festival this year because we will be out of the country -- we're really bummed because we both love Miami! We will have lots of friends in the audience though, and we hope audiences will let us know what they think through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
MGLFF presents the Florida premiere of The Case Against 8 on Monday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Shores. Tickets cost $12. Visit mglff.com.
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