The four plaintiffs in the legal battle over California’s gay marriage ban Proposition 8 told a Hot Docs audience on Tuesday night (April 29) that it took their five-year involvement in the trial and documentary The Case Against 8 to realize how important the right to get married was to each of them.
Same-sex couples (pictured, left to right) Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, and Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier joined filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White after a screening of The Case Against 8 to discuss the film, which follows the legal battle to overturn California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. The civil rights issue reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, where the ban was deemed unconstitutional and struck down.
When the four plaintiffs – the doc’s central characters – were asked what they’d discovered through their participation in the documentary, Stier said the process elucidated “what not having access to marriage really meant” to her and her partner.
“The wedding was fantastic and then the taking away was just awful,” she said. “We didn’t allow ourselves the luxury of thinking about what had been done to us. Making the documentary really crystallized the injustices.”
Initially, Cotner and White set out to make a documentary about the unexpected pairing of high-profile lawyers David Boies, a Democrat, and staunch Republican Ted Olson, who teamed up to fight Proposition 8. Throughout the course of filming, however, they said it was clear the primary characters in the film would be the two couples.
“We shot for three years without knowing it was a movie,” explained White. “We had 600 hours of footage, and we were hoping it would snowball into something bigger.”
The filmmaker said it was only when the case reached the Supreme Court that they knew they had a third act.
Still, for a documentary predicated on numerous court battles, the issue of accessing legal proceedings remained an obstacle since cameras were not allowed in courts for certain legs of the trial.
“It was a setback, and we were okay with it,” said White. “Had cameras been allowed, any filmmaker could have made this film. It made our film a better film because it became about the ‘behind-the-scenes’, and pulling back the curtain on the trial.”
White and Cotner worked around their lack of courtroom images by getting the lawyers and four plaintiffs to read the court transcripts during their interviews.
During the Q&A, the couples addressed numerous questions about how their lives have changed following the ruling, and what they hope the film will accomplish.
“I can’t wait for so many people to see this film, because I think it’s going to move people,” said Katami. “The movie says, ‘Step into our shoes for a few years.’”
The Case Against 8 will get a U.S. theatrical release via HBO Documentary Films on June 6, followed by a June 23 premiere on the TV network.