A collective eyebrow was raised when the 2023 Sundance Film Festival announced a last-minute addition to the lineup: justice, a documentary exploring the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. That the movie was the first documentary to be directed by Doug Liman, the man behind it Swingers and The Bourne Identityand was produced by Amy Herdy, an ex-journalist and key researcher for the documentaries All to Farrow and On the recording, only aroused curiosity. Would the film contain new claims against Kavanaugh beyond what emerged during and around his explosive hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee? Or perhaps you offer new evidence that corroborates the accounts of women who had already spoken out against Kavanaugh with sexual misconduct allegations, including Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick?
justice debuted January 20 to a packed house of 295 people at Sundance’s Park Avenue Theater, including several dozen members of the press. Liman had his entire crew sign NDAs and self-funded the project to keep it completely hidden.
And the film raises more questions than it answers.
It opens with Liman sitting on a couch opposite Christine Blasey Ford asking him why he, a Hollywood director, wanted to make this movie. Only the back of Ford’s head is visible and she does not appear on camera again, except for archive footage of her strong testimony. In a Q&A after the screening, Liman said he chose not to include any new footage of Ford to spare her the extra scrutiny and threats. Swetnick, meanwhile, remains unmentioned.
Most of the film’s attention goes to Deborah Ramirez, who narrated The New Yorkerss Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer that while Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale in 1983, “Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken slumber party, shoved his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent while pushing him away.” She repeats those accusations during a sit-down interview in justice. (Kavanaugh has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.)
As the FBI spoke to Ramirez as part of their week-long “limited scope” investigation into Trump nominee Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct, ultimately concluding that they found “no corroboration of the allegations” [of sexual misconduct]which led to the conservative justice’s lifelong appointment to the Supreme Court, although Bureau agents have not spoken to a number of people who either corroborated her account or had other accounts of Kavanaugh’s behavior at Yale.
The biggest reveal in justice concerns Max Stier, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh. According to the book Brett Kavanaugh’s upbringingby means of New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, Stier, who runs the Partnership for Public Service, a prominent Washington, D.C., nonprofit (and nonpartisan) organization, informed senators and the FBI that he “saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a another drunken slumber party, where friends shoved his penis into a college girl’s hand, “but the FBI didn’t track him down.” justice goes one step further and broadcasts an audio recording of Stier’s account, which the filmmakers believe was entrusted to them by an anonymous source. (Storm refused to speak to the filmmakers, as did Kavanaugh.)
“This is something I reported to my wife years ago,” Stier says, before going into detail about how he had heard a story “first hand” from Kavanaugh’s friends asking a heavily inebriated young woman for “his penis hold” during a dorm room. party. He also recalls on the audio an alleged episode he heard in which a drunken Kavanaugh tried to stick his penis in a young woman’s mouth at a dorm party as she nearly passed out on the floor from drinking.
In elsewhere justice, several of Ramirez’s Yale classmates express frustration with the FBI for not interviewing them, even suggesting that Kavanaugh’s team contacted Yale classmates of theirs during the investigation to try and steer them in his direction. Shown in the film is a series of text messages that appear to show Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates discussing how members of Kavanaugh’s circle had contacted them about their memories related to Ramirez’s accusations. Since Kavanaugh was adamant that he did no such thing while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the film alleges that he committed perjury.
More than anything else, justice feels like a signal for future prosecutors and witnesses to Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct to come forward. The press was told that the 83-minute version shown at Sundance was not the final cut, and Herdy and Liman told festivalgoers during the post-screening Q&A that they had received new tips since the documentary was announced on Jan. 19, and that the movie – and their research – isn’t done yet.