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Takeaways from Sundance’s secret Brett Kavanaugh documentary


PARK CITY, UTAH — “We’re getting more tips,” Amy Herdy announced Friday night after the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Justice,” a documentary she produced about the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The film’s existence was a surprise, as the festival only revealed on Thursday, its opening night, that it was making a film all last minute addition to the lineup: the first documentary from “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman. Within half an hour of the news breaking, Liman said in the post-screening Q&A, the film team began hearing from people who had sent the FBI tips before Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which the agency did not investigate further.

Suddenly what was finished started again. The tips were compelling enough for the team to start researching and filming again with plans to add footage to the finished film, Liman said. In a wild and rare move, the finished documentary was turned back into a work in progress.

“I thought I was off the hook,” said Liman, who self-financed the film to maintain independence and keep it a secret. “I was like, ‘We’re at Sundance. I could sell the movie.’ … And yesterday Amy said, ‘We’re not done yet.’ Seriously, they’ll be back at it on Monday morning.”

The film, which Liman said in a press release, aims to “[pick] where the FBI investigation of Brett M. Kavanaugh fell woefully short,” debuted to a packed house of nearly 300 people. Someone asked if he wanted to show it to Kavanaugh. The answer was a joking yes. “We’re looking for buyers,” Liman said, “and it occurred to us that he might buy it.”

The justice confirmation process in the fall of 2018, which took place just before the midterm elections, turned chaotic when Palo Alto-based psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford accused the Trump nominee of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. After The Washington Post published Ford’s story, two more women accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Deborah Ramirez, one of those women, told Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker that Kavanaugh stuck his penis in her face at a party when they were at Yale University. The FBI interviewed Ramirez, whose attorneys said the agency never contacted any of the 20 witnesses who might have corroborated her story. The FBI’s investigation into Kavanaugh yielded 4,500 tips that went largely uninvestigated.

After reviewing a week-long FBI report that Democrats described as rushed and incomplete, the Trump White House said it found no corroboration of the allegations against the Justice Department. Kavanaugh, who was part of the conservative 6-3 majority that fell Roe against Wade, has categorically denied all allegations and does not appear in the film outside of archive footage. The Supreme Court’s Public Information Office did not respond to The Post’s request for comment on the documentary.

Liman told the Sundance audience that in 2018 he started thinking about making this movie as he watched the hearings and “knew something was very wrong”.

After all, the director grew up with the law. His father, Arthur L. Liman, was lead attorney in the Senate investigation into the Iran-Contra affair and helped lead the investigation into the Attica prison riot. Doug Liman’s older brother, Lewis, is a federal judge in the Southern District of New York.

Liman and Herdy, an investigative journalist who made the 2015 documentary about sexual violence “The Hunting Ground”, preserved kept their Kavanaugh research a secret for a year by using non-disclosure agreements – an impressive feat in the small world of documentary film.

Liman juxtaposes archive footage with testimonials from Ramirez, Ford’s friends, and Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates who said Justice was often heavily drunk, but the film feels unfinished. (Variety called it “an exercise in choir preaching”.) However, a powerful moment reveals a previously unheard recording of a tip to the FBI about another prosecutor.

Here’s what we learned at the premiere.

The movie is about Ramirez, not Ford

Liman gives Ramirez the public platform she never got before the Senate. A long, emotional interview with Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate from Boulder forms the backbone of the film. While the interview doesn’t contain much that hasn’t already been reported, it’s powerful to hear someone who doesn’t like being in the spotlight tell her own story with all the anxious starts and stops that come with trying to imagine an almost remember 40 years ago. a year-old traumatic event.

Ramirez discusses her Catholic upbringing and early desire to become a nun. She also recounts her entry into Yale in 1983 as the shy, half-Puerto-Rican daughter of out-of-college parents who was trying to fit into the predominantly wealthy, white, male institution that had only begun admitting women 15 years earlier. . She details how she got drunk at a party and looked up to find a penis in her face, which she – having never touched a penis before – accidentally brushed with her hand. All her friends started laughing at her.

She had blocked the memory, but when Farrow interviewed her, she said details surfaced and she is certain Kavanaugh was her attacker.

“The prominent memory is the laughter,” she says in the documentary, echoing what Ford had said in her testimony. “I’ve never forgotten it in 35 years.”

Ford appears almost entirely in archive footage

The film begins, rather curiously, with the camera focused on Liman, sitting on a white couch, as a blonde woman asks why he would want to step into something so controversial. The audience at that point sees only the back of Ford’s head, and then a little more of her at her sons’ basketball game right after the opening.

Otherwise, she can only be seen on footage of her hearing

Instead, her close friends tell her story. One says Ford told him about the Kavanaugh attack in 2015 without naming him, when Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was given a lenient sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious female student, Chanel Miller.

Liman said in the Q&A that he didn’t think Ford needed to be interviewed again after he was exposed all on the national scene. He preferred to pan the camera and let her ask some questions.

“I felt that Dr. Ford has given so much to this country,” he said. “She’s done enough for 10 lives.”

The FBI failed to investigate at least one credible allegation

If there’s a smoking gun in Liman’s film, it’s a voice message left on the FBI tip line from Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service who visited Yale with Kavanagh and Ramirez.

In the previously unheard recording, Stier says classmates not only told him that Kavanaugh stuck his penis in Ramirez’s face, but that Kavanaugh then went to the bathroom to straighten himself before reportedly returning to attack her again, in the hope to amuse an audience of mutual assault. friends. In the film, Ramirez says she suppressed the memory so deeply that she couldn’t remember this second incident, even when Farrow explicitly asked her about it.

Stier’s message to the FBI also cites another incident involving another woman, which he says he witnessed “first hand”: A heavily drunk Kavanaugh, his roommate, pulled down his pants at another party while a group of soccer players a drunk woman forced freshman to hold his penis.

Friends of the woman told the New York Times in 2019 that she had no recollection of the incident and did not want to come forward after seeing Ford’s treatment. Taurus does not appear in the movie to elaborate, nor did he give further interviews when his tip first surfaced in 2019.

That’s what the filmmakers told the audience on Friday that they have a website, JusticeFilm.com, where people can send tips.

“I really hope this leads to action,” said Herdy. “I really hope this leads to additional investigations with real subpoena powers.

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