Justice: How Doug Liman Directed Explosive Brett Kavanaugh FBI Investigation Docu in Secret

How Liman Directed a Brett Kavanaugh FBI Investigation Docu in Secret

The filmmaker kept his project under wraps with the help of NDAs and commitment to self-financing, with investigative docu vets Amy Herdy and Story Syndicate’s Dan Cogan and Liz Garbus helping realize his plan.

Doug Liman, the director behind titles like Swingers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity, spent all of 2022 making his documentary debut about the government investigation into now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Non-fiction stalwarts Dan Cogan and Liz Garbus backed the docu, which debuted at the Sundance Film Fest after being successfully kept a secret for over a year.

This may all sound like a project produced via a particularly unbelievable game of Mad Libs but allow Liman to explain.

Brett Kavanaugh
“The Supreme Court, which is sacred for all of us, holds special meaning for me,” says Liman. His father, Arthur L. Liman, was a revered lawyer and activist who helped lead investigations into the Iran-contra affair and the Attica prison uprising, among other notable cases. Liman’s older brother, Lewis, is a longtime lawyer and now a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, who once clerked for the Supreme Court. Lewis Liman eventually tried a case in front of the Supreme Court, with his filmmaker brother and other family members flying into Washington to attend. Says Liman, “Even though I’m not a lawyer, I’ve held the court in a kind of reverence that’s very personal.”

Liman, like many in the country, watched the September 2018 confirmation hearings of Kavanaugh, 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 the allegations” of sexual misconduct, leveled by Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who alleged Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm party at Yale University.

It was later revealed in 2021 that the FBI received some 4,500 tips while investigating Kavanaugh that went largely uninvestigated. The tips deemed most relevant were referred to President Donald Trump’s White House; the administration would later push through Kavanaugh’s appointment. “I can’t stress enough how personally significant the Supreme Court is and how important it is that we vet the people who sit on it,” says Liman. “We were promised an investigation that never happened.” Liman wanted to fill in the blanks, and dig into what the FBI had reportedly ignored.

Prep on Justice began at the beginning of 2022 with Herdy and her 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 tracking down the sources of the uninvestigated FBI tips. Filming began in earnest in the spring.

Justice includes testimonials from Ramirez, as well as friends of Ford’s and college contemporaries of Ramirez’ and Kavanaugh’s, among many others. The doc also features new information that filmmakers say was submitted as tips to the FBI that is presented in the film as corroborating evidence to both Ford’s and Ramirez’ accounts.

It also dives into a third incident that was submitted to the FBI — and, was later revealed, went uninvestigated —by former Yale classmate that claimed he witnessed Kavanaugh at drunken dorm party where friends forced his penis into the hand of a female student.

When the film started to come together, 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 was not surprised by Liman’s interest in non-fiction filmmaking, saying, “Even the huge Hollywood films he made always — even when they were having fun — tried to be about something.”

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

Everyone working on Justice, from Cogan and Garbus to the colorist, signed non-disclosure agreements.

Liman, who also spent part of 2022 directing a remake of action classic Road House, thought that the project should stay secret for the safety of those working on it. 

Many documentary insiders who learned that the docu would screen at Sundance were surprised that a production of this size was kept under wraps.

Herdy notes that the director never turned down a request when additional funds were needed for the investigative team to continue their work. Liman says that, as a director, he is the one often in the position of asking a studio for more money: “When you get a director who’s also funding [their film], they pretty much just always say yes.”

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

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

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

It was announced on Thursday afternoon that the doc, which is being sold by CAA, will screen on Friday night in Park City. “We saw it, practically, yesterday,” said head programmer Kim Yutani when making the announcement, adding that Justice “challenges existing narratives and asks tough questions.” Sundance has long been a launchpad for politically charged non-fiction features, including last year’s Navalny about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Garbus highlights what she sees as the existential question that Justice poses, saying, “If documentary filmmakers can turn up the amount of information on a single individual’s budget that people hadn’t heard about, imagine what would’ve actually come out if there had been a full governmental investigation.”