“Justice,” director Doug Liman’s surprise documentary about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, premiered Friday at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
A belated addition to the independent festival’s Special Screenings lineup, the film was screened for the only time to the public during the event, announced at the opening Sundance press conference on Thursday, to a packed house at Park City’s Park Avenue Theater , with Liman in attendance greeting friends and giving hugs to the front of the room.
Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed before the Supreme Court in 2018 after a contentious confirmation process that included allegations of sexual assault. In 2019, it was reported that, by order of the White House and Senate Republicans, the FBI limited its investigation to allegations of past sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.
Liman, a filmmaker best known for his work on films like “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” explained in a statement that “‘Justice’ begins where the investigation from the FBI on Brett Kavanaugh fell woefully short.
“The film examines our judicial process and the institutions that support it, highlighting the bureaucratic missteps and political power grabs that continue to have an outsized impact on our nation today.” “Justice” is his first documentary.
Oh, and the last few songs played on the PA system before the screening started? “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Here are the key takeaways from “Justice” and the Q&A that followed:
1. This may be obvious, but the title “Justice” has two meanings here. It is understood as a reference to Kavanaugh’s title and an assertion that the FBI and the political establishment erred judicially against those who brought charges by failing to properly pursue them.
2. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s, is not a key source in the film. Although the document begins with Ford asking Liman why he is interested in this and what his goals are in making the film, she otherwise appears only in stock footage. Instead, her story is told primarily through her testimony in Congress and interviews with her friends. “I felt that Dr. Ford had given so much to the country … she did more than her share for the country,” Liman said. “She made enough for 10 lifetimes.”
3. “The outstanding memory is laughter.” Deborah Ramírez, who alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were Yale students together in the 1980s, appears in the film to tell her story and, like Ford in his public statements, Ramírez highlights the laughter of Kavanaugh among his memories.
4. The film features powerful recording by Max Stier. Stier allegedly witnessed sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh during a “drunken dorm party” while at Yale, and notified the senators and the FBI after Kavanaugh’s nomination, though the FBI reportedly did not further investigate the claim. Although he does not appear in the film, the recording is powerful: the alleged incident, he says, involves a woman whose identity remains anonymous because she chose not to appear, due to forgetfulness during a night of drinking, yes, but also because she saw what happened to Ford after speaking in public.
5. Context, context, context. The film includes interviews with experts who talk about how traumatic memory works to corroborate the credibility of Ford and Ramírez’s accusations. There are also discussions of the media discourse surrounding Ford’s 2018 allegations, which in some cases attempted to paint the scenario as “boys will always be boys” or counter the accusation by asking “Why ruin a man’s life?” for something he did as a child?” The film is positioned, in part, as an indictment of a larger culture that encourages us to forgive and forget the bad behavior of privileged groups.
6. According to the documentary, the FBI to this day has not contacted those who submitted information about the allegations against Kavanaugh for a formal investigation. “I hope this sparks outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy, ultimately leading to “a real investigation with subpoena powers.”
7. According to Liman, the chilling effect against the accusers continues: “This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” he said. “The machine that was turned on against anyone who dared to speak up, we knew the machine would be turned on in this movie… We live in a climate where no matter what we get in this movie, the people who support the status who continues to support him.”