Takeaways from Doug Liman’s Secret Brett Kavanaugh Documentary at Sundance



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

The film’s existence came as a surprise, as the festival didn’t reveal until Thursday, its opening night, that it was making a very last-minute addition to the poster: the first documentary of “Swingers” Y “The Bourne Identity” Director Doug Liman. Half an hour after the news broke, Liman said in the post-screening question-and-answer session, the film crew began listening to people who had submitted tips to the FBI prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which the agency did not investigated further.

Suddenly, what was finished began again. The tips were convincing enough that the team began researching and shooting again with plans to add footage to the full film, Liman said. In a wild and rare move, the finished documentary became a work in progress once again.

“I thought I was free,” said Liman, who self-financed the film to retain independence and keep it under wraps. “I was like, ‘We’re at Sundance. I could sell the movie. … And yesterday, Amy said, ‘We’re not done.’ Really. On Monday morning, they’ll do it again.”

The film, which Liman said in a press release, is intended to “[pick] how far the FBI investigation into Brett M. Kavanaugh fell woefully short,” he debuted to a packed room of nearly 300 people. Someone asked if he would 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 judge’s confirmation process in the fall of 2018, which took place just before the midterm elections, turned chaotic when Palo Alto psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford accused the Trump nominee of sexually assaulting her when they were in court. high school. After the washington post published Ford’s story, two more women accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Deborah Ramírez, one of those women, said Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer of the New Yorker that Kavanaugh put his penis in her face during a party when they were at Yale University. The FBI interviewed Ramirez, whose attorneys said the bureau never followed with any of the 20 witnesses who might have been able to corroborate his story. The FBI investigation into Kavanaugh generated 4500 tips which was largely uninvestigated.

After reviewing an FBI report compiled in a week that Democrats called hasty and incomplete, the Trump White House said it found no corroboration of claims against justice. Kavanaugh, who was part of the 6-3 conservative majority that overturned Roe vs. WadeHe has categorically denied all the allegations and does not appear in the film outside of the stock footage. The Supreme Court’s public information office did not return The Post’s request for comment on the documentary.

Liman told the Sundance audience that he started thinking about making this movie in 2018 while watching audiences and “knew something very bad was going on.”

After all, the director grew up around the law. His father, Arthur L Liman, was lead counsel in the Senate investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair and helped lead the investigation into the Attica prison uprising. 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 sexual assaults “The hunting ground”, kept up secret of his Kavanaugh research for a year using non-disclosure agreements: an impressive feat in the small world of documentary film.

Liman intercuts archival footage with testimony from Ramirez, Ford’s friends and Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates who said the judge was often seriously inebriated, but the film feels inconclusive. (Variety called it “a preaching exercise to the choir”). One powerful moment, though, reveals a never-before-heard recording of an FBI tip on another accuser.

This is what we learned at the premiere.

The movie focuses on Ramirez, not Ford.

Liman gives Ramírez the public platform he never had in front of the Senate. A long and emotional interview with Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate who lives in Boulder forms the backbone of the film. Although there isn’t much in the interview that hasn’t already been reported, it’s powerful to hear someone who doesn’t enjoy being in the spotlight tell their own story with all the harrowing starts and stops that come with trying to remember a nearly 40 traumatic event from 1 year.

Ramírez talks about her Catholic upbringing and her early desire to be a nun. She also talks about her entering Yale in 1983 as the shy, half-Puerto Rican daughter of parents who didn’t go to college and trying to fit in at the predominantly wealthy, white, male institution that only began admitting women fifteen years earlier. She gives a detailed account of 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 against it with her hand. All her friends started laughing at her.

She had blacked out the memory, but when Farrow interviewed her, she says the details resurfaced and she’s certain Kavanaugh was her attacker.

“The prominent memory is the laughter,” he says in the documentary, echoing what Ford had said in his testimony. “I have never forgotten it in 35 years.”

Ford appears almost entirely in stock footage

The film begins, curiously, with the camera focused on Liman sitting on a white sofa, while a blonde woman asks him why he would want to get involved in something so controversial. Audiences only see the back of Ford’s head at this point, then a bit more of her at his son’s basketball game just after the opening.

Otherwise, she is only seen in footage of her hearing.

Instead, her close friends tell her story. One says Ford told him about the assault on Kavanaugh without naming him in 2015, when Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner received a lenient sentence after being found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious student, Chanel Miller.

Liman said in the question-and-answer session that he felt Ford did not need to be subjected to another interview after stripping. all on the national stage. He preferred to turn the camera and let her ask a few questions.

“I felt that Dr. Ford has given a lot to this country,” he said. “She has done enough for 10 lifetimes.”

The FBI failed to investigate at least one credible allegation

If there’s one damning piece of evidence in Liman’s film, it’s a voice message left on the FBI tip line by Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Association for Public Service who attended Yale with Kavanagh and Ramirez.

In the never-before-heard recording, Stier says his classmates told him not only that Kavanaugh shoved his penis into Ramirez’s face, but that Kavanaugh then went to the bathroom to get erect before allegedly assaulting her again, hoping to amuse a mutually agreed-upon audience. friends. In the film, Ramírez says that she had repressed the memory of her so deeply that she could not remember this second incident, even when Farrow explicitly asked her about it.

Stier’s message to the FBI also cites another incident involving a different woman, which he says he witnessed “firsthand”: Kavanaugh, his seriously inebriated roommate, drops his pants at a different party while a group of players soccer player obliges a drunken woman. freshman to hold her penis.

The woman’s friends told The New York Times in 2019 that she did not remember the incident and did not want to talk after seeing Ford’s treatment. Stier does not appear in the film to give more details nor did she give more interviews when she tipped her off. first appeared in 2019.

The filmmakers told the audience on Friday who have a website, JusticeFilm.comwhere people can send suggestions.

“I hope this triggers action,” Herdy said. “I hope this triggers a further investigation with real subpoena powers.

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