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'Limited Partnership': Outfest Review

Limited Partnership - H 2014
Courtesy of Tom Miller

The Bottom Line

This potent doc retrieves a fascinating chapter in LGBT history.

Venue:

Outfest

This documentary follows a gay couple's 40-year relationship amid struggles with American immigration officials.

A few documentaries about gay marriage have already surfaced, but Limited Partnership, an excellent film that has been making the festival circuit, offers an unusual take on the subject.  This film tells the story of a gay couple who were actually married in 1975, during a brief period when the county clerk in Boulder, Colorado decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Although the state’s attorney general eventually ruled those licenses invalid, the saga of Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan makes for an engrossing story.  The movie clearly has a future on public television, but the enthusiastic audience response at Outfest and at LA Film Fest suggests that there might be some theatrical life in this movie’s future.

Director Thomas G. Miller began working on the project in 2001, when he set out to examine the effect of U.S. immigration laws on gay couples.  Adams was born in the Philippines but became an American citizen many years ago.  Sullivan, however, was an Australian who had never obtained a green card.  When Sullivan was threatened with deportation in the 1970s, the couple left the country and lived abroad for many years.  When they returned to the U.S., they lived under the radar in order to avoid official notice.  At one point they tried to use their marriage certificate from Colorado as the basis for an appeal, but a representative from the INS responded that there was no such thing as “a bona fide marital relationship… between two faggots.”  Fortunately, times have changed.

Miller first filmed Adams and Sullivan in 2002 as preparation for the documentary on immigration that never materialized.  He continued to follow them more over the next decade as the debate over gay marriage intensified.  The result is a remarkably poignant chronicle of the devotion of these two men for 40 years.  Their relationship is not idealized.  At one point Adams says of Sullivan, “He’s the most wonderful person, even though he’s irritating.”  They had their conflicts, like most couples, but they persevered, with support from Adams’ family but with none from Sullivan’s in Australia.  His mother basically disowned him in a letter shown on camera.

Some unexpected developments bring surprising drama to the later sections of the film.  Miller and his editors have kept the story hurtling forward right up to the rousing if bittersweet conclusion.  It helps if a documentary has compelling subjects, and Adams and Sullivan certainly hold the camera.  But the skill of the filmmakers socks the story home.

 

Director:  Thomas G. Miller

Producer-screenwriters:  Thomas G. Miller, Kirk Marcolina.

Cinematographers:  Nancy Huffman, Leo Chiang, Shana Hagan.

Editors:  Kirk Marcolina, Thomas G. Miller, Carl Pfirman, Monique Zavistovski.

Music:  Allyson Newman.

No rating, 74 minutes.