Posts Tagged ‘Ben Cotner’

One of the things you notice when you’re an expat living in Ireland is how the Irish media love to take a story from abroad and find a way to connect it back home. Athletes, artists, musicians, politicians…everyone and everything is fair game. So today, in the spirit of Irish journalism, I’m going to do my own “connecting of the dots” and show you how the film The Case Against 8, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S. Documentary Directing prize, is connected to Ireland.

For starters, you need to know a little bit about the film. The Case Against 8 is a documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes of the high-profile trial that overturned California’s Proposition 8, a controversial constitutional amendment that made marriage between same-sex couples illegal.

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On the steps of the US Supreme Court.
Photo Credit: The Sundance Institute

The case first made headlines when lead attorneys, Ted Olson and David Boies, joined forces to assist the American Foundation for Equal Rights in trying the case. Olson and Boies were once political foes, squaring off against each other in Bush v. Gore back in 2000.

The plaintiffs were two couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who found themselves and their families at the centre of the same-sex marriage controversy. Paul Katami, whose sister is married to an Irishman from Dublin, is a charming and well-spoken fitness expert and small business owner who never imagined himself an activist.

Photo Credit: Diana Walker

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. Photo Credit: Diana Walker

“Jeff and I are ‘accidental activists'”, Katami says. “We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we agreed to get involved.” One can believe it too. From start to finish the case lasted 5 years and during that time the plaintiffs’ lives were open to public scrutiny and, sometimes, outrage.

Katami and Zarrillo were in a committed relationship for 8+ years when Prop 8 appeared on the political landscape in California. Hurt by the negative campaign in support of the amendment, which included a television advertisement created by the National Organization for Marriage called Gathering Storm, the couple took action and made a counter-video called Weathering the Storm. Their video went viral nearly overnight and brought them to the attention of Chad Griffin, then head of the newly formed American Foundation for Equal Rights, and Hollywood activists Rob Reiner, Bruce Cohen and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

Griffin liked what he saw and reached out to Paul and Jeff with an offer to get involved. After saying yes and being fully vetted, the two joined Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, mothers to four boys who were also well vetted, as plaintiffs.

Paul Katami, Jeff Zarillo and Ryan White at Sundance after party.

Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo and Ryan White at a Sundance after-party.

Filmmakers Ryan White, whose grandfather was Irish by way of Mallow, and Ben Cotner had unparalleled access to key players in the historic case and provided in-depth coverage of a trial the public never saw. “We were not trying to make a film about whether gay marriage was right or wrong, ” says White. “We were making a character film following this team of people and really delving into their lives and using that journey to let people decide for themselves in the end”.

Standing ovation for The Case Against 8 at the world premiere.

Standing ovation for The Case Against 8 at the world premiere.

With over 600 hours of footage, edited down to 112 minutes, The Case Against 8 is a cinematic journey through one of America’s most significant civil rights battles in recent times. It isn’t a boring talking heads movie full of legalese. Nor is it a slanted propaganda piece for the pro-gay-marriage camp. It is an even-handed, deeply personal, account of the events as they occurred.

A quick photo pop with Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry.

A quick photo opp – thanks Jeff, Paul, Sandy and Kris.

Unfortunately, The Case Against 8 won’t be shown at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in February…maybe next year! You can, however, see another of one Ryan White’s films, Good Ol’ Freda, instead. It’s the story of Freda Kelly, the Dublin-born woman who was personal secretary to The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, for eleven years. Kelly had many opportunities to open up and share her tale with the world {and cash in on it too} but she waited until the right person, someone she knew she could trust, came along. Ryan knew Freda his whole life but it was his aunt Sandra who put them together in a way that sparked a film. Good Ol’ Freda is the first independent movie to have successfully licensed original Beatles recordings, and it won an audience choice award for best film at the Cleveland International Film Festival. {I have a copy, given to me by Ryan’s aunt while we were both at Sundance, and I’m looking forward to watching it this weekend.}

So there you have it, Dear Readers…an unexpected Irish connection to an America story.  I am very happy to be sending this post into the world today because, after seeing The Case Against 8, I totally understand why it’s time for marriage equality for all. I’m only ashamed I didn’t consider the importance of it sooner. I’ll be sure to let you know when this terrific film comes to Ireland. And, when it does, I hope you will see it.

Additional Information:

For regular updates on The Case Against 8 follow them on Facebook here.

For regular updates on Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo follow them on Facebook here.

Follow Ireland’s campaigners moving towards marriage equality on Facebook here.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged that he will campaign strongly in favour of the referendum on same-sex marriage. Read more here.

One of the best background articles on the campaign against Prop 8 at http://www.callawyer.com/Clstory.cfm?eid=906575

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