How Doug Liman Made His Brett Kavanaugh Sundance Doc in Secret - The Hollywood Reporter

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Doug Liman – the sought-after feature director behind titles like Swingers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity — spent all of 2022 making his debut in the documentary about the government’s investigation of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Non-fiction supporters Dan Cogan and Liz Garbus backed the documentary, which will now premiere at the Sundance Film Festival after being kept under wraps for over a year.

All of this may sound like a project produced through a particularly unbelievable Mad Libs game, but allow Liman to explain.

“The Supreme Court, which is sacred to all of us, has a special meaning for me,” says Liman, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter before the festival. Her father, Arthur L. Liman, was a respected lawyer and activist who helped lead investigations into the Iran-Contra case and the Attica prison uprising, among other notable cases. liman is older her brother, Lewis, is a longtime attorney and now a federal judge in the Southern District of New York who was a former Supreme Court clerk. Lewis Liman ended up trying a case before the Supreme Court, with his filmmaker brother and other family members flying to Washington to attend. Says Liman, “Although I’m not a lawyer, I hold court with a kind of reverence that is very personal.”

It was with that reverence that Liman, like many in the country, attended Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in September 2018, where Christine Blasey Ford testified about her allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in Maryland. The FBI investigated and later released its report citing “no corroboration of allegations” of sexual misconduct, raised by Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a Yale University dorm party. It was later revealed in 2021 that the FBI received around 4,500 tips while investigating Kavanaugh, which went uninvestigated. The tips considered most relevant were forwarded to President Donald Trump’s White House; the government would later approve Kavanaugh’s appointment. “I cannot stress enough how personally significant the Supreme Court is and how important it is that we examine the people who serve on it,” says Liman. “We were promised an investigation that never happened.” Liman wanted to fill in the blanks and investigate what the FBI would have overlooked.

Going into his first doc, Liman looked for an experienced production partner. Veteran investigative Amy Herdy credits include college campus sexual assault doc The Hunting Field and the Russell Simmons sexual misconduct document on record. “When I was initially approached, I was intrigued,” says Herdy, who serves as a producer on Justice. In 2018, she approached Ford’s attorney about accompanying her during and after the public hearings. “I was very politely told, ‘No’.”

Prepare Justice began in early 2022 with Herdy and his investigative team, including former investigative journalist Cali Bagby and retired federal intelligence and security agent Noel Engels, diving into the publicly known allegations against Kavanaugh and tracing the sources of the FBI’s uninvestigated tips. Filming began in earnest in the spring.

Justice includes testimonials from Ramirez, as well as from friends of Ford and college classmates of Ramirez and Kavanaugh, among many others. The document also features new information that the filmmakers say was sent as tips to the FBI, presented in the film as evidence corroborating Ford and Ramirez’s accounts. He also delve into a third incident that was submitted to the FBI – and, it was later revealed, was not investigated – by a former Yale classmate who claimed to have witnessed Kavanaugh at a drunken dorm party where friends forced his penis into the hand of a student. .

“What Doug and Amy were getting was a lot of new information, as well as a stunning insight into the lack of diligence for one of the most important jobs in our country,” says Garbus, the veteran documentary filmmaker who heads up the prolific nonfiction production. company Story Syndicate with Dan Cogan. Herdy is a longtime Garbus and Cogan collaborator, working on projects such as on record and Allen v. Farrow.

As the film began making, Liman reached out to Garbus, a friend since they attended college together at Brown University, and Cogan. Liman wanted advice on directing a potentially explosive documentary that tackles both sexual politics and the inner workings of Washington, D.C. Cogan wasn’t surprised by Liman’s interest in nonfiction films, saying, “Even the big Hollywood movies which he always did – even when they were having fun – they tried to be about something.

After advising on rough cuts of Liman’s project, Story Syndicate boarded the film as official, with Garbus and Cogan serving as executive producers.

all working on Justice, from Cogan and Garbus to the colorist, have signed non-disclosure agreements. Liman, who also spent part of 2022 directing a remake of the action classic road housethought it best that the project remain a secret for the safety of those working on the film. (A series of documentary filmmakers who spoke with THR after the announcement that the documentary would be shown at Sundance, they were surprised that a production of this size was kept under wraps.)

Partially as an attempt to maintain the secrecy of the projects, but mainly to maintain complete independence, Liman self-financed the entire production. “If you want to know who invested the money for the film, look no further than me,” says Liman. But had he considered getting outside funding? “Whoever I went to put money into the movie, suddenly their motives could be suspect or they could influence the way people view the movie,” he says, adding emphatically, “I don’t have a political ax to grind.”

Herdy notes that the director has never turned down a request when additional funds were needed for the investigative team to continue its work. Liman says that, as a director, he is often the one asking the studio for the most money: “When you get a director who is also financing [their film]they pretty much always say yes.

“Nobody else would have done this,” Cogan says of Liman’s funding. Herdy adds that Liman’s decision “made a difference when you’re coming to a subject” that might be concerned about where the money behind the project is coming from, as they weighed whether or not to participate. She says, “When you say, ‘Doug Liman is the person financing the movie.’ The first reaction is usually, ‘Is Doug Liman making a documentary?’”

When asked what Justice will offer potential audiences, says Liman: “It was important to me to create a film that would allow people to come to their own conclusions about the truth and hear voices that were silenced in 2018 that shouldn’t have been silenced in 2018.”

Herdy states, “I’m going to take it a step further. I believe that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, and I believe that the new evidence in this film shows that he sexually assaulted at least two other women. And the graphic details are heartbreaking.” She continues: “It points to a pattern.”

Justice it is described as a “festival cut” with Liman and the filmmakers still tinkering with editing. “We still have people who are contacting us,” says Herdy. “At some point, you have to say ‘pencil down’.” The filmmakers currently have two lawsuits pending against the Department of Justice for FOIAs.

It was announced Thursday afternoon that the documentary, which is being sold by CAA, will screen Friday night in Park City. “We saw this practically yesterday,” said lead programmer Kim Yutani in making the announcement, adding that Justice “challenges existing narratives and asks tough questions.” Sundance has been a launching pad for politically charged non-fiction films, including last year Navalny about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Garbus highlights what she sees as the existential question that Justice poses, saying, “If documentarians can reveal the amount of information about a single individual’s budget that people have never heard of, imagine what would actually happen if there was a full government investigation.”

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