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Ben Cotner might be making his first trip to the Sundance Film Festival as a director, but he’s arriving in Park City with a powerful army to support his same-sex marriage documentary, The Case Against 8.
At the heart of the large entourage are rival lawyers-turned-bosom-buddies Ted Olson and David Boies, who first became household names after squaring off during the George W. Bush–Al Gore presidential recount legal battle in 2000. (Olson repped Bush, and Boies handled Gore.)
Case Against 8, making its worldwide premiere in competition on Saturday before airing on HBO in June, is an intimate behind-the-scenes chronicle of Boies and Olson’s landmark legal fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage. They’ve since reteamed to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage and are arriving in Utah only days after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a federal court ruling allowing gay unions in Utah. (They are not involved with the Utah case.)
More than 50 lawyers working on the case alongside Olson and Boies also are descending on Park City, along with board members of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which backed the lawsuit and the documentary. The foundation’s co-founder Chad Griffin will attend the premiere, as well as Rob Reiner and his wife, Michele, and veteran producer Bruce Cohen. Paul T. Cappuccio, general counsel of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company, is coming to Sundance as well.
“It’s ended up being the perfect storm for the first screening of this incredible film,” says Chad Griffin, a top Hollywood political player. HBO Documentary Films threw its weight behind the project — co-directed by Cotner and Ryan White — more than a year ago. International theatrical rights are still available.
So far, Case Against 8 hasn’t generated protests at Sundance by anti-gay marriage groups. A spokesman for Utah’s Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, which has slammed Sundance in the past, told The Hollywood Reporter that he was unaware of the film.
On Sunday night, the Human Rights Campaign, of which Griffin is president, will throw a bash for Case Against 8 at Sundance. In addition to Reiner, Olson and Boies, the party’s hosts include Lance Bass, Sundance festival director John Cooper, actor George Takei and his husband, Herb.
Earlier this week,Takei, who has his own documentary playing at Sundance, To Be Takei, slammed Utah governor Gary Herbert for fighting the ruling allowing same-sex unions in Utah, where more than 1,300 couples were married before the Supreme Court stay (and some of those couples have been invited to attend Sunday’s Sundance party).
The Gibson Dunn law firm, where Olson is a partner, and Boies’ firm, Boies, Schiller and Flexner, also are hosting the invite-only party, titled “Equality Unscripted.”
At a smaller event Saturday night thrown by the Human Rights Campaign and HBO, there will be a collective toast to gay marriages across the country.
White and Cotner, a veteran movie acquisitions executive who recently left his job at Open Road Films to pursue filmmaking full time, was provided access by the Foundation for Equal Rights. He and White spent five years making the documentary, capped by last year’s victorious U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a federal ruling that voided Proposition 8.
“It’s obviously an issue I care about personally,” says Cotner, who is gay and has a longtime partner (They aren’t married yet.) “The film tells an amazing story of a bipartisan effort and a liberal and a conservative lawyer coming together. When we began, we had no idea how far this case would go.”
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