Thirty-one world premiers, thirteen international, nineteen European and forty UK premiers later, this year’s Sheffield Doc Fest is finally over. On the festival’s last day I was lucky enough to catch Thomas Miller’s incredibly moving documentary about same-sex marriage, Limited Partnership.

Limited Partnership

It’s 2002. One of America’s first married gay couples still believes that ‘love will triumph and change the world’. Despite being married to US born Richard in 1975, Australian born Tony has repeatedly been denied a US green card. The first letter they received from the US government states: ‘you have failed to establish that a bone fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots’. Refusing to separate from Richard, Tony has since been living in the US as an ‘undocumented American’. Limited Partnership follows their legal battle against the American government for equal treatment of same-sex marriage couples in immigration policy: the first battle of its kind and one that lasted over forty years.

 

This film from director Thomas Miller, balances the personal story of Richard and Tony with the wider political context and growing demand for same-sex marriage equality. Beginning back in 1975 when a county clerk determined there was nothing in the Colorado marriage code to prevent two homosexuals from marrying – a decision later overruled by the Attorney General – Miller traces the reaction of the US government through the Federal Defence Of Marriage Act to the impact of 9/11 on immigration law.

Limited Partnership achieves both a poignant intimacy with Richard & Tony and captures a politically rousing impression of the bigger picture”

Miller astutely collates archive footage of the couple’s legal battle which played out across the US media. In doing so, he takes in eruptions of public hatred towards homosexuals that shock US born Richard, who says, ‘it was a very uncomfortable period of my life’. But the levels of public hostility come only second to the repeated, offensive responses to Richard and Tony made by the US government itself. The way in which Miller assembles this historic news footage is masterly, encapsulating shifts in opinion both within and across state lines.

Filming Richard and Tony between 2001 and 2014, Miller is able to dig deep into his subjects’ lives. Tony’s childhood and troubled relationship with his mother – who even wanted to have him lobotomised – is especially poignant. Her letter to Tony during the couple’s legal battle is more heartbreaking than any government response he receives. In dedicating so much of his time to the couple, Miller captures not only their strength and enduring bond, but a testament to love and commitment that contrasts sharply with narrow, legal definitions of marriage embraced by government.

Already garnering numerous festival awards, Limited Partnership achieves both a poignant intimacy with Richard and Tony and captures a politically rousing impression of the bigger picture. Like Richard and Tony’s belief that ‘love will triumph and change the world’, it’s also hopeful: by the end of this month, the US Supreme Court will decide if all states must allow same sex couples to marry.
 
You can find all of my posts on Sheffield Doc Fest 2015 here.
 
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