The Case Against 8
In their look back on the lengthy, frustratingly bureaucratic, and wholly semantic trial to overturn California’s unjust ban on gay marriage, filmmakers Ryan White and Ben Cotner have created not only a well crafted look at one of the hardest fought civil rights victories in world history, but also a great story about rivals working together for a common cause and probably one of the most balanced looks at the intricacies and downfalls of the American legal system. It’s power is undeniable and it’s depressing that everyone involved had to go to such lengths for a simple piece of paper, but it also crackles with the drama of great fiction.
The charge to overturn Proposition 8 was led by a pair of couples – Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – who want their couplings to be legitimate marriages and not “domestic partnerships so they can rightfully be afforded the same rights as every other loving long term relationship. They’re represented by a pair of lawyers who couldn’t be more different: Ted Olsen, a conservative icon who helped George W. Bush win the infamous Florida recount, and David Boies, the man who opposed him in the same fight. Together they navigate numerous false starts, victories that are taken away from them, and fight a war where the defense they’re up against can’t admit their own bigotry.
It’s an incredibly delicate issue not in terms of the actual content of the case but in the emotions involved. The couples have clearly thought through what they want out of life, and their sadness at not being able to move on from this one moment is crushing, especially for Zarrillo and Katami, whose frustrations sometimes get in the way of remaining objective to the case at hand. Even more than just a look into an important American legal case, there’s a heck of a lot to unpack here beyond the surface and White and Cotner do a masterful job at making sure every aspect of the case is examined in great detail without being a stuffy legal primer. They understand that the people involved wouldn’t want to relive the minutiae of the case that drove them all halfway crazy, and they don’t want to foist that onto the audience either.
And yeah, you know by now how this all ends, but the film does its job in terms of giving viewers as deeper appreciation for what was accomplished.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
A major disappointment not as the opening night film from this year’s Hot Docs, but also for filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, whose previous look at internet culture We Are Legion was one of the better documentaries to look at internet advocacy. Tonally, stylistically, and narratively, this film is on slightly different footing, but it’s only a few steps removed thematically from what he worked on before. That makes it all the more frustrating that it isn’t very good.
Knappenberger returns to chronicling internet culture with this look at Aaron Swartz: a brilliant young man who as a teen helped develop RSS, the co-founded Reddit, and became one of the foremost activists to speak out against SOPA. An “alpha nerd” with an admittedly large ego, Swartz became the target of numerous government investigations that tragically led to his suicide at only 26.
It’s an admittedly tragic story of someone who really did want to change the world for the better, but after too many interview subjects say variations of “He never did anything wrong!” or “He never hurt anyone!” the film feels like its spinning its wheels unnecessarily. An avalanche worth of voiceover exposition and sometimes ham-fisted, overwrought music cues also kill any momentum the human elements of the story might have. It feels like at any moment the narrator will say “Dateline NBC will return after these messages.”
There’s a great story in here and Knappenberger has clearly done his research, but there’s also a better movie waiting to get out.
Also at The Bloor this week:
I can think of few better ways to spend a late night on World Pride weekend than checking out the monthly shadowcast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday at 11:30pm. Next to Halloween and New Year’s Eve, I can’t think of a better time of year to do the time warp.
The Gender Matters series continues this week with a truly must see film. Award winning documentarian Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated, Outrage) looks at the trauma suffered by sexually abused soldiers in the positively incendiary and harrowing The Invisible War. It was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award and one of the most important documentaries of the decade. You can catch it if you haven’t already on Tuesday at 6:30pm with a Q&A with Tonda MacCharles, a reporter on paramilitary affairs for the Toronto Star who has written extensively on harassment in the military. The Q&A will be hosted by Toronto Star film writer Linda Barnard. Also, while we’re on the subject, check out our interview with Kirby Dick about the film from when it debuted in 2012.