Forget movie stars. The hottest celebrity at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Justice Ginsburg is the subject of RBG, a new documentary from filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen, which premiered at the festival Sunday night. The film traces the history of the beloved Supreme Court Justice, illustrating how a shy, brilliant Brooklyn girl worked tirelessly, fell in love, championed women, made history, migrated to the left of the bench, befriended late Justice Antonin Scalia, curated an extensive wardrobe of lace and rhinestone collars, and became “notorious.”
Following the film, the crowd gave standing ovations to both West and Cohen (who then introduced the almost entirely female crew) and the Justice herself, who was seated in the audience before the filmmaker Q&A began but was immediately invited to the stage, encouraged by the enthusiastic crowd.
When asked what she thought of the film, the Supreme Court’s queen of the liberal dissent agreed with the majority: “I knew this was going to be good,” she said. “And I haven’t got words to describe how marvelous it was. And I’d just say a special thanks to the person who selected the music — many of my favorites.”
Justice Ginsburg has been having “a wonderful time” at Sundance, where she gave a showstopping public interview earlier on Sunday. She described the film festival as “part out of a fairy tale book, part of it looks like Switzerland” — though expressed regret at having given away her skis — and noted that founder Robert Redford is “just as good-looking as I thought he’d be.”
When one audience member asked for her opinion on an issue of transgender rights, the Justice looked to the filmmakers and said, “You anticipated that’s the kind of question I’d have,” before Cohen excused her from answering: “Justice Ginsburg can’t comment on questions of policy that might be coming before the Supreme Court.”
But she did have plenty to say about other topics. When asked what to say to young girls who are unsure of their place in the world, the Justice said to simply “tell them how it was in the not-so-good old days, and they have to be [aware of the] tremendous progress women have made. There’s no place to go but up.”
When asked what’s on her bucket list, the 84-year-old Justice spoke eloquently of her intention to continue to serve on the Supreme Court. “I’d like to see this Court do the job that it has been doing for now well over 200 years, to do it in a way that’s faithful to the Constitution that I believe was made to govern us through the ages, for one generation to the next,” she said.
“I have said many times that our Constitution starts with the words, ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.’ I hope I can continue to be part of making that more perfect union. Think of where we started. Who were the founders? Who were the people who counted? Who were the people who voted? They were all white, male, and property owners. So I think the genius of our Constitution is that, over the course of well over two centuries, ‘we the people’ now includes people who were left out at the start. People who were held in human bondage; half the population, women; Native Americans — none of them counted in the beginning. So the idea of a Constitution that is still being perfected, that is ever more inclusive… It is a tremendous honor that I have this job, and a huge responsibility.”
Finally, the premiere took place the day after marchers filled Park City’s Main Street — as well as other cities across the country — for the second year in a row. Justice Ginsburg was “glad to see it happen, because the march, the first women’s march, was hugely attended, and I wondered whether it would stop at that or whether the movement would continue. And I think yesterday was proof that it will continue,” she said.
“The more women who are out there doing things, the better off all of us will be for it. That’s something that my dear colleague Sandra Day O’Connor often said: the more women who are out there doing things, the more young women will have the courage to go on. And I am heartened by the number of women who will be in races for our Congress and governorships and state legislative positions. It was a favorite expression of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’”
CNN Films co-produced the documentary, and the cable news network will air the film on a date to be announced.