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Knight at the Movies: The Case Against 8; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2014-06-11

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As seemingly any politically aware person in Our Community will tell you, the euphoria of election night in November 2008 quickly dissipated with the realization that the anti-gay Prop 8 amendment had passed in California, nullifying and preventing the marriages of same-sex couples throughout the state. It seemed that once again when it came to LGBT rights, we were taking two steps forward, one step back.

Many heeded the ensuing outcry and call for activism the following spring as LGBT activists and political consultants Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake formed the American Foundation for Equal Rights ( AFER ) specifically to lead a legal challenge to overturn Prop 8. In a move that outraged and stymied advocates on both sides of the issue, AFER hired Ted Olson—the high-profile lawyer for former President Bush—to lead the charge. Olson brought on David Boies, his legal opponent in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that resolved the 2000 election in Bush's favor. The two lawyers had become close friends and were in sync about their passion to see the injustices inherent in the Prop 8 amendment overturned.

The teaming of Olson and Boies—the arch conservative Republican and the liberal Democrat—brought massive media attention to the issue ( no doubt intended ) and intrigued Ben Cotner, a film producer who had befriended the documentary filmmaker Ryan White. The duo had a personal stake in the outcome of the legal challenge—both are gay and Californians—and they decided that there might be something worth documenting as the case progressed. After approaching AFER and winning permission to film, they began.

The fruits of their labors—five years' worth of backstage access to the many twists and turns that the case took—are recorded in their film The Case Against 8. The fly-on-the-wall aspects and the unprecedented access the duo were granted help elevate and enliven what has become a very familiar topic. As Olson and Boies prepare their case with a battery of assistants, the nuts-and-bolts aspects—the mock cross-examinations of the carefully chosen plaintiffs, the strategy sessions, the gains and losses—are as compelling and entertaining as a good episode of Boston Legal.

The movie is also given something that Dustin Lance Black's play 8, which utilizes the court transcripts for its dialogue, could only hint at: the human element. The two couples at the center of the legal challenge—one lesbian, one gay—embody this elemnt, giving the movie its heart and illuminating the lack of fairness that was the basis of Prop 8. We have read the testimony and seen the interviews with Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the lesbian moms of four sons, and their counterparts, the gay couple Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, who wanted their union legalized before having kids of their own. But watching the quartet in the long years as the case slowly wound its way up the ladder puts an all-too-human face on the issues at hand.

There are the expected scenes of Kris and Sandy interacting with their teenage sons: carpooling, making dinner, attempts at keeping the distracted teens involved—quick overviews of the relationships of both couples and emotionally difficult interviews with the legal team in which their sense of feeling like second-class citizens is palpable. The personalities of the couples, along with members of the legal team, become distinctive and, as always, it's the little details—as when Kris haltingly describes the form letter she and Sandy got putting the status of their marriage in limbo—that resonate. By the time the final ruling comes—which naturally, we know from the outset—the element of suspense is pronounced, as is the exhilaration as the quartet are raced to their respective city halls to legally wed when Prop 8 is rescinded.

The Case Against 8 is showing exclusively in Chicago beginning Friday, June 13, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., and is a must-see. The fight for marriage equality has never been more thrillingly recorded than in this at turns exciting and deeply moving film. http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/features/case-against-8

Film notes:

—Kim Rocco Shields' 20-minute anti-bullying short Love Is All You Need? has received more than 30 million hits, been translated into 15 languages and has been denounced by conservatives ( naturally ). The film turns the issue of gay-bashing around, imagining a world in which heterosexual desire is socially repellent and a justification for violence. Now Shields and her team are endeavoring to expand the short into a full-length feature that GLSEN ( Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network ) is supporting. To help fund the project, they've created an IndieGoGo campaign, which continues until July 2. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/love-is-all-you-need—2

—"Getting old ain't for sissies," the oft-repeated quote from Bette Davis, is especially apt for the LGBT elderly, who face not only health challenges but discrimination as well. Stu Maddux's excellent 2011 documentary Gen Silent—which focuses on the issue, viewed through the lives of the six LGBT senior citizens portrayed in the film—is being shown on Tuesday, June 17, at 6:45 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St. A panel discussion will follow the screening which is being jointly presented by the Center and the Lincoln Park Village. centeronhalsted.org

—The Abominable Crime, Micah Fink's 2013 penetrating documentary that debuted in Chicago at last year's Reeling Film Fest, is now out on DVD. Fink's searing film looks at the violent homophobia faced by gay Jamaicans who, once their sexuality is exposed, must choose between flight or remaining in their homeland and risking their lives. abominablecrimefilm.com

—In celebration of a decade as film critic for Windy City Times, on Thursday, June 19, I'll be reading and signing copies of my new film review collection The Best of Knight at the Movies, 2004-2014 at 7 p.m. at Women & Children First bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St. Windy City Times publisher/editor Tracy Baim will also be there, and she will read/sign copies of her latest book, Vernita Gray: From Woodstock to the White House, about the longtime LGBT activist who recently passed away. Owen Keehnen, the co-author of the Vernita Gray book, will also be present. www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/event/tracy-baim-owen-keehan-and-richard-knight-jr .


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