TORONTO — “Freeheld,” a gay-rights drama about the turning tide of social justice, was shaped by the same currents of change it depicts.
In the course of making the true story about New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester’s fight for pension benefits for her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality and one of the film’s stars, Ellen Page, came out.
“Freeheld,” the story of a landmark victory in an ongoing battle for LGBT rights, is part celebration, part inspiration.
“Whenever you have these really amazing moments of progress or advancement, there can be a backlash to that,” says Page, also a producer of the film. “It’s nice to have this film now to celebrate the joy and celebrate the progress, mixed with, of course, the backlash that comes from people that struggle with the LGBT community.”
“Freeheld,” which opens in theaters Friday, dramatizes the events of Cynthia Wade’s 2007 Oscar-winning short documentary of the same name. Hester, a 23-year police veteran played by Julianne Moore, was dying of terminal lung cancer when she sought to have her pension transferred on her death to Andree (Page), as would be the case for a married couple. A panel of county legislators — freeholders — initially refused, and the case became a national story.
The film, directed by Peter Sollett and penned by Ron Nyswaner, is about the reluctant entry of Hester and Andree — both humble, private people — into the public struggle of the gay rights movement. It occurred simultaneously with the rapid onset of Hester’s cancer; she died in 2006 at age 49, shortly after the freeholders reversed their ruling.
“It is so personal, so, so incredibly personal,” says Moore. “We were really entrusted with an awful lot.”
Such are the terms all involved with “Freeheld” use to describe an unusually emotional movie experience. Andree was involved with the film, meeting with Moore and Page, visiting the set and attending the film’s moving premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.