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Pursuit Of Equality: The Unfinished Work Of American Freedom

Near-limitless access to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's office -- one of the filmmakers is his brother-in-law -- makes "Pursuit of Equality" a valuable behind-the-scenes chronicle of what may become a seminal U.S. historical moment, when the young politico decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses last year.

With:
With: Mayor Gavin Newsom, Bevan Dufty, Stuart Gaffney, Dennis Herrera, Mark Leno, Phyliss Lyon, Del Martin, Mabel Teng, Rev. Mark Wilson, Rosie O'Donnell. Narrator: Lewis Nelson.

Near-limitless access to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s office — one of the filmmakers is his brother-in-law — makes “Pursuit of Equality” a valuable behind-the-scenes chronicle of what may become a seminal U.S. historical moment, when the young politico decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses last year. Otherwise this just-serviceable feature misses its opportunities by failing to fully convey the firestorm of national controversy that ensued. Preaching-to-the-converted tone (complete with pompous subtitle) seems more apt for a fund-raiser than a balanced docu. Gay fest travel is assured, but pic may need more work to tempt wider play.

Saying it was simply a matter of antidiscriminatory justice, the personable and photogenic new mayor wasted little time before announcing City Hall would treat civil-ceremony requests by gay couples no differently than those from heterosexual ones.

Aware a court decision might at any time close this window of opportunity (as it did, about a month later), pairs began queuing up. City workers gladly sacrificed their weekends to process up to 400 licenses a day. The inevitable appearance of fundamentalist-Christian protesters only briefly dampened the celebratory mood.

In all, more than 4,000 couples were legally united before court injunctions halted matters. The divisive issue continues to be battled over in legal, political and public-opinion arenas.

There’s no doubting the potential lasting significance of these events, or their profound meaning to the many grateful newlyweds whose loving relationships (as a California Supreme Court decision duly labeled them) were at least partially acknowledged by law. But “Pursuit” barely lifts its head above the local level, a strange decision given the debate Newsom fanned to full flame. Some even opined that pushing gay marriage during an election year, without consulting his party higher-ups, may have lost Democrats the White House and sabotaged Newsom’s own future prospects. Given the controversy’s huge impact on public discourse and politics, the docu’s narrow focus is a real letdown.

Highlighting individual stories among the hundreds of wedded couples provides human interest outside the mayoral chambers. But pic betrays its message of equality when it stops midway to gawk at length at celebrity Rosie O’Donnell flying in to marry her own life partner. Broadcast clips, though not used nearly enough, provide the various two on this matter of Gov. Schwarzenegger, President Bush, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, among others.

Primarily handheld camerawork and erratic sound are excusable under breaking-news circumstances. However, some banal music choices, unattributed intertitle homilies and an occasional tabloid-TV tenor are not.

Popular on Variety

Pursuit Of Equality: The Unfinished Work Of American Freedom

Production: An Emmett Brooks Prods., Enough Said Prods. production. Produced by Geoff Call. Directed by Geoff Callan, Mike Shaw.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Callan, Shaw, John Frasier, Nick Booth; editor, Shaw; music, John DeBorde. Reviewed at San Francisco Intl. Film Festival, April 24, 2005. Running time: 75 MIN.

With: With: Mayor Gavin Newsom, Bevan Dufty, Stuart Gaffney, Dennis Herrera, Mark Leno, Phyliss Lyon, Del Martin, Mabel Teng, Rev. Mark Wilson, Rosie O'Donnell. Narrator: Lewis Nelson.

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