“Justice,” director Doug Liman’s surprise documentary about Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, premiered Friday at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
The film, a late addition to the indie festival’s Special Screenings program, screened to a packed house at the Park Avenue Theater in Park City during the event – announced at Sundance’s inaugural press conference on Thursday. Liman was in attendance and greeted friends and gave hugs at the front of the room.
Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed in the Supreme Court in 2018 after a controversial confirmation trial that included allegations of sexual assault. In 2019, it was reported that the FBI, by order of the White House and Senate Republicans, limited its investigation into allegations of Kavanaugh’s past sexual misconduct.
Liman, a filmmaker best known for his work on films such as Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Edge of Tomorrow” said in a statement that “‘Justice’ picks up where the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh fell woefully short.
“The film examines our judicial process and the institutions behind it, highlighting bureaucratic missteps and political seizures of power that continue to have an outsized impact on our nation to this day,” he added. Justice is his first documentary film.
Oh, and the last few songs played over the PA system before the performance started? Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.
Here are the key takeaways from Justice and the Q&A that followed:
1. This may be obvious but the title “justice” here has two meanings. It is meant as a nod to Kavanaugh’s title and as a claim that the FBI and political establishment have committed a miscarriage of justice against those who made allegations by failing to adequately investigate them.
2. Christine Blasey Ford, who claimed during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing that he sexually assaulted her in the 1980s when they were teenagers, is not a key source in the film. Although the document begins with Ford asking Liman why he is interested and what his goals are in making the film, she otherwise only appears in archival footage. Instead, her story is mostly told through her congressional testimonies and interviews with her friends. “I felt that Dr. Ford has given so much to the country…she has done more than her part for the country,” Liman said. “She’s done enough for 10 lifetimes.”
3. “The outstanding memory is laughter.” Deborah Ramirez, who claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were Yale students together in the 1980s, shows up in the film to tell her story — and like Ford in her public statements, Ramirez punctuates Kavanaugh’s laughter her memories.
4. The film contains a strong shot of Max Stier. Stier allegedly witnessed sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh during a “drunken dorm party” at Yale — and notified senators and the FBI after Kavanaugh’s nomination, though the FBI reportedly didn’t investigate the allegation further. Though he doesn’t appear in the film, the capture is impressive: the alleged incident, he says, involves a woman whose identity remains anonymous because she chose not to come forward – for lack of recollection of a night of drinking, yes, but also because she saw what happened to Ford after speaking publicly.
5. Context, context, context. The film includes interviews with experts who discuss how traumatic memories work to bolster the credibility of Ford and Ramirez’s claims. Also discussed is the media discourse surrounding Ford’s allegations in 2018, which in some cases attempted to paint the scenario as “Boys will be Boys” or to counter the accusation with the question: “Why ruin a man’s life for something he did?” did a child do?” The film positions itself in part as an indictment of a broader culture that encourages us to forgive and forget wrongdoing by privileged groups.
6. According to the documentary, to date, the FBI has not contacted those who submitted tips regarding the allegations against Kavanaugh for a formal investigation. “I hope this sparks outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy — which would eventually lead to “a real subpoena investigation.”
7. According to Liman, the deterrent to accusers remains: “It was the kind of movie where people get scared,” he said. “The machinery being used against anyone who dares to speak up, we knew that machinery would be turned against this film… We live in a climate where no matter what we get in this film, people who support the status quo would keep supporting it.”