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Interview: Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White present The Case Against 8

In town to promote The Case Against 8 during the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Ben Cotner and Ryan White, co-directors of this inspiring documentary, faced an arduous task. This task was presenting the film at festivals in states where same-sex marriage has not yet been legalized.

Cotner took the lead by stating: “We are really excited because the movie has played throughout the U.S. and mostly in places where marriage is still illegal, in red states. (But) the idea of standing up for civil rights and fighting for your rights is universal”.

Here in Toronto, the co-directors are by and large preaching to the converted, so the challenge of watching this film becomes more about how and why certain Americans are so opposed to marriage equality. White, unprompted, continues the thread as to the documentary’s core. “There’s a social issue at the heart of our film, but it’s also a character film. Hopefully people will still want to come to see the filmmakers and the characters’ journeys”.

Before the interview with Cotner and White, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry glide through the lobby of the hotel. A representation in the film of the power of stability possible within same-sex marriage, the couple are engaged in a secret joke and smiling proudly.

It is wonderful to notice that Cotner and White have captured on film the effervescence of the couple, which speaks to the film’s mimetic nature and their skill as documentary filmmakers. It is hard to believe that The Case Against 8 is Cotner and White’s initial offering together, and White’s first film as a director, period, having worked more as a distributor, prior to making his case heard during this project.

Cotner explained the filmmakers’ route to the interior nature of the film, speaking like a rationalist: “This became not just an argument about laws, this was (about) examining an issue in a very detailed and methodical way…the testimony of the plaintiffs was so powerful that just their words alone became something that we started to craft (in order to) recreate the trial itself”.

Their response to a final question took quite an unexpected turn. The filmmakers speak out strongly in favour of marriage equality throughout the course of the film, but what about the aspect of “marriage” in “same-sex marriage”, as some believe that all forms of marriage are more of a social and legal contract?

White crafts an extremely powerful conclusion: “(famous prosecutor) Ted Olsen is such an interesting draw. It was such a game changer bringing him into this case. He said ‘we should want this’ for LGBTQ people. We value family values…small government”. The director then went on to echo indirectly Pierre Trudeau’s idea that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.

The film is opening this weekend at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, in order to coincide with WorldPride 2014 celebrations. The timing could not be better, as, in essence, Cotner and White’s film is a celebration and embrace of love in all of its forms.