Sundance doc looks into Brett Kavanaugh investigation
"Justice" was a surprise inclusion in the festival; it was announced on Thursday and quickly became one of the most anticipated.
By LINDSEY BAHR AP Film Writer
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — A new documentary looks into the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and raises questions about the depth of the FBI investigation in 2018.
"Justice," from filmmaker Doug Liman, debuted Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival to a sold-out theater surrounded by armed guards.
The film, made under intense secrecy, focuses on allegations made by Kavanaugh's Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez that were detailed in a New Yorker article in 2018. Ramirez alleged that at a gathering with friends when she was a freshman in 1983, Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her. Kavanaugh has denied those claims. "Justice" also plays a taped recording of a tip given to the FBI from another Yale classmate, Max Stier, that describes a similar incident that the FBI never investigated.
The Stier report was previously detailed in 2019 by New York Times reporters Robin Pogebrin and Kate Kelly as part of their book "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation." But the details of it came under scrutiny. After the story was posted online but before it was in the print edition, the Times revised the story to add that the book reported that the woman supposedly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed, and that her friends say she doesn't recall the incident.
Stier was not directly interviewed for the film and declined the filmmakers' request to comment on the contents. An unnamed person whose voice was manipulated for anonymity provided the Stier tape to the filmmakers.
Kavanaugh was sworn in as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in October of 2018 after a narrow 50-48 roll call following a wrenching debate over sexual misconduct. He strenuously denied the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teens.
Many people referenced in the film, from Kavanaugh himself to several of Ramirez's friends who were allegedly there, similarly declined to speak or never responded.
"Justice" is especially critical of the FBI investigation that took place after the hearings. Through FOIA requests the filmmakers found that there were some 4,500 tips sent to the tipline that went uninvestigated.
One of Ramirez's friends from Yale who was interviewed for the film provided text messages in which a mutual friend admits to being contacted by "Kavanaugh's people" and participated in the narrative that Ramirez didn't remember things correctly.
Blasey Ford appears in new footage only in the first several moments of "Justice," asking Liman, a filmmaker known for "Swingers" and "The Bourne Identity," why he's making this film — a question that he doesn't quite answer.
In a Q&A after the film, Liman said he was simply outraged after watching her testimony in 2018. The making of the film, which they self-financed, was shrouded in secrecy. Everyone signed nondisclosure agreements, Liman said, and they even had code names for those who agreed to participate. He said that people are "terrified" and that those who came forward are "heroes."
Most of the focus is on telling Ramirez's story — where she came from, how she ended up at Yale and what kind of person she is and was. Several academics specializing in trauma, as well as lawyers, help explain why memory of traumatic events is reliably fractured and how those gaps can be weaponized by prosecutors.
"Justice's" surprise inclusion in the festival was announced on Thursday, the first day of the festival, but it quickly became one of the most anticipated films in a slate of over 100. At least part of the reason for something like "Justice" to debut at Sundance is to drum up buzz and secure a distributor. As many of the lawyers in the film say, the stakes are whether or not Kavanaugh perjured himself under oath.
Asked what he wants to happen when audiences see "Justice," Liman said, "I kind of feel like the job ends with the film and what happens afterwards in beyond my control."
Standing beside him, his producer Amy Hardy said she disagreed. Hardy said she hopes it triggers outrage and leads to "a real investigation with subpoena powers."