The political issue of marriage equality hovered over Sundance like a thundercloud that broke on Saturday, with a documentary about Prop 8 raising high emotions and the premiere of a touching drama about a gay couple that faces troubles after they marry.
There were tears and strong emotions at the premiere of “The Case Against 8,” a documentary about the effort to overturn the California law banning gay marriage.
The movie elicited a lengthy standing ovation, and the lawyers who fought the battle in attendance, Theodore Olson and David Boies, hung around to answer questions after the movie.
“The goal is to have marriage equality in all 50 states in five years,” Olson told the crowd. The movie airs on HBO in June.
The issue is very current in the festival’s home state of Utah which is enmeshed in the legal fight over marriage equality. A court recently overturned a 2004 law banning gay marriage, but Governor Gary Herbert has said the state will not recognize the marriages performed since the Dec. 20 ruling.
Writer-director Ira Sachs debuted “Love is Strange” on Saturday, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a longtime couple that is forced to separate after they finally marry. As a result of the marriage Molina is fired from his job as choir director for a Catholic Church, and the couple must separate as they face financial strain.
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“I was interested in telling a story about a marriage, understanding this couple who’d been together for 40 years and understanding where they are in this stage of their lives,” the director told TheWrap on Saturday. “The politics are present in the film, but they are put to the side for questions of characters, dealing with a crisis.”
These movies were thematically joined by a documentary about Star Trek actor and gay activist George Takei, “To Be Takei,” chronicling his coming out, his marriage and his activism on behalf of the LGBT community.
Takei, 76, came to Sundance with his husband Brad Takei for “To Be Takei,” by director Jennifer Kroot, which is screening in the documentary premieres section.
In an interview with TheWrap on Saturday he attacked the Utah governor, comparing him to segregation-era governor George Wallace.
Takei said: “He reminds me of Governor George Wallace about 50 years who stood in the schoolhouse doorway trying to deny little black girls and little black boys equality in education. That’s what Governor Herbert is trying to do, deny justice. These are people that legally, lawfully got married, and he’s saying No, no, no.”
“Clearly it’s in the zeitgeist,” said Howard Cohen, the co-chairman of Roadside Attractions, in line for the first screening of “Love is Strange.” Cohen himself is preparing to marry his longtime partner Eric d’Arbeloff, the other co-chairman of the indie distributor.
Sachs, who is gay, thanked his husband from the stage ahead of the screening. Festival director John Cooper then followed suit, thanking his husband from the podium.
So while gay marriage is very common in the entertainment community, it is currently on hold in Utah, halted by the U.S Supreme Court pending a final ruling. “We’ve known the Supreme Court has had the case for a year and a half. But it’s a big wake up call to realize your rights are in the hands of a select few,” said d’Arbeloff. “It makes sense that filmmakers would respond to it.”
“It is certainly timely,” said Molina in an interview with TheWrap. “As we were filming we were reading stories about couples in exact same situation. People fired from their jobs because they took advantage of the law.
“But the movie is not a polemic,” he continued. “The political issue of same sex marriage… is really a backdrop to the story of this relationship that everyone in the movie takes for granted.”
Cohen cautioned that just because the topic is current does not mean the movies will sell to distributors. “It has to be a good movie,” he said. “But the subject is a plus in the context of a good movie. Whenever there’s a major social movement, it’s always two steps forward and one step back.”
Lithgow said he hoped the film would break out to a broad audience, and not only be seen by the gay community.
Said Lithgow: “We certainly did not make this film for a small audience. We made it for a large audience We are not completely accepted, and yet we are completely acceptable.”