by Robb C. Sewell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 16, 2008

Laurel Hester and her life-partner Stacie Andree.
Laurel Hester and her life-partner Stacie Andree.  

Recently the story of a dying woman's battle against time in order to leave her pension to her partner made headlines throughout New Jersey and the United States. Laurel Hester, who succumbed to cancer in February 2006, spent over twenty-five years as a police officer in New Jersey, risking her own safety, her own life to protect others. Sadly, the Board of Chosen Freeholders (the powers that be) in the very county she served denied Laurel her basic civil rights and refused to allow her pension to pass onto her partner Stacie, the woman who shared her life and her heart. Now, a little over a year after Laurel's death, the documentary Freeheld: The Legacy of Laurel Hester pays homage to this courageous woman - and her band of supporters - who championed against intolerance and injustice.

Directed by Cynthia Wade (whose previous documentaries include "Shelter Dogs" and "Grist for the Mill") and produced by Vanessa Roth (producer and director of the award-winning documentary "The Third Monday in October"), Freeheld is simply an amazing, intimate portrait of an average woman waging a battle for equality. And it is a glimpse of those who both support her and those who attempt to thwart her efforts.

The documentary, which nabbed a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, offers a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the viewer. It is at times difficult to watch as Laurel's health falters, as cancer ravages her body, and as she faces stubborn opposition to her fight for equality. It is sobering to witness intolerance in all its ugliness, exhibited through the New Jersey legislators elected to shepherd the state's residents. Yet, it is also triumphant to watch as Laurel and Stacie, united in love and commitment and strengthened by steadfast resolve, deal with life's struggles, and as friends and supporters rally around the couple, determined to right the wrongs thrust upon them.

Freeheld: The Legacy of Laurel Hester is simply an amazing documentary, a true piece of unscripted reality, with all its blemishes and beauty intact. It is a documentary that pays fitting tribute to a true hero, a woman who refused to compromise and who ultimately helped to secure for all of us a little bit more of the equality we all richly deserve.

Learn more on the film's website:

Robb C. Sewell is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese, Parlor, and Mississippi Crow. His novel excerpt, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. When not crafting new stories and characters, and pitching his play Breeding Ground, he enjoys spending time with his husband Eric and their cats Tabitha and Sciuto in their new home in Collingswood, NJ, and practicing yoga and breath therapy.