Sundance: Key Takeaways from Brett Kavanaugh doc ‘Justice’

Sundance: Key Takeaways from Brett Kavanaugh doc ‘Justice’

Sundance: Key Takeaways from Brett Kavanaugh doc ‘Justice’

“Justice,” director Doug Liman’s surprise documentary about Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, premiered Friday at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

A belated addition to the independent festival’s Special Screenings lineup, the film made its only public screening during the event — announced at Sundance’s opening press conference on Thursday — to a packed house at Park City’s Park Avenue Theater, with Liman gift greeting friends and giving hugs at the front of the room.

Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed on the Supreme Court in 2018 after a contentious confirmation process that included allegations of sexual assault. In 2019, it was reported that, by order of the White House and Senate Republicans, the FBI had limited its investigation to accusations of past sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.

Liman, a filmmaker best known for his work on films such as “Swingers”, “The Bourne Identity”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” explained in a statement that “’Justice’ begins where the FBI’s investigation of Brett Kavanaugh failed.

“The film examines our judicial process and the institutions behind it, highlighting bureaucratic mistakes and political power grabs that continue to have an outsized impact on our nation today,” he added. “Justice” is his first documentary.

Oh, and the last few songs to be played over the sound system before the screening starts? “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

Here are the main takeaways from “Justice” and the questions and answers that followed:

1. This might be obvious, but the title “Justice” has two meanings here. It’s a reference to Kavanaugh’s title and an allegation that the FBI and the political establishment perpetrated a miscarriage of justice for those who filed charges by failing to properly pursue them.

2. Christine Blasey Ford, who claimed during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s, is not a major source in the film. Although the document begins with Ford asking Liman why he is interested in this and what his goals are in making the film, she only appears in archival footage. Instead, her story is told primarily through her congressional testimony and interviews with her friends. “I felt that Dr. Ford has given so much to the country…she has done more than her part for the country,” said Liman. “She made enough for 10 lives.”

3. “The outstanding memory is laughter.” Deborah Ramirez, who claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were both Yale students together in the 1980s, appears in the film to retell her story – and, like Ford in her public statements, Ramirez singles out Kavanaugh’s laugh among her memories.

4. The film features powerful recording by Max Stier. Stier allegedly witnessed Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct during a “dorm drunk party” while at Yale – and notified senators and the FBI following Kavanaugh’s nomination, although the FBI failed to investigate the allegation further. Though he doesn’t appear in the film, the footage is powerful: The alleged incident, he says, involves a woman whose identity remains anonymous because she chose not to come forward – out of memory during a drunken night, yes, but also because she saw what happened to Ford after speaking publicly.

5. Context, context, context. The film includes interviews with experts who talk about how traumatic memory works to substantiate the credibility of Ford and Ramirez’s claims. There are also discussions of the media discourse on Ford’s allegations in 2018, which in some cases attempted to paint the picture as “boys will be boys” or to counter the charge by asking, “Why ruin a man’s life over something he did as a child? The film positions itself, in part, as an indictment of a larger culture that encourages us to forgive and forget the misbehavior of privileged groups.

6. According to the documentary, the FBI to date has not contacted those who submitted tips about the allegations against Kavanaugh for formal investigation. “I hope this sparks outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy – leading to “a real investigation with subpoena powers.”

7. According to Liman, the chilling effect against accusers remains: “That’s the kind of movie where people are terrified,” he said. “The machinery that is set against anyone who dares to speak out, we knew the machinery would be set in motion in this film… We live in a climate where no matter what we have in this film, the people who support the status quo continue to support it.”

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