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Of the 800 or so people at the Herbst Theatre on Friday night, only one seemed surprised at the size — and enthusiasm — of the gathering. “I’m thunderstruck,” Judge Thelton Henderson said on his way into the lobby. “I really am. It’s really amazing.” The preternaturally humble senior Northern District federal judge was doing his best to act as if it were really no big deal that much of the local public interest bar — lawyers, activists, judges both state and federal — had gathered to watch a movie about him. The film, “Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson’s American Journey,” has been three years in the making, explained Abby Ginzberg, its producer and director, after the showing. Henderson didn’t see it until last week. “I looked at the film this morning. I wasn’t going to do it, but Abby said I should, that way I can relax,” he said. Henderson apparently liked what he saw. The documentary traces Henderson’s path from Watts to the federal bench, where he’s gained renown — and, among conservatives, infamy — for striking down a state anti-affirmative action initiative, enforcing federal laws keeping dolphins out of tuna nets and mandating overhauls of the California state prison system. Most recently, he put the state prison health system under federal receivership. Along the way, the movie details Henderson’s work just out of law school as the first African-American civil rights lawyer in the Department of Justice (he was fired for lending Martin Luther King Jr. his car) and his time at Stanford Law School, where he worked to diversify what had been a bastion of whiteness. Ginzberg said she wants the movie to reach a general audience and hopes to show it at Sundance. Its first public screenings will be Sunday, Monday and Oct. 14 at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The Friday crowd, though, was anything but a general audience; in fact, it was composed largely of die-hard Henderson fans. “I haven’t seen these people since the Impact Fund dinner,” said Michael Rubin, a partner at labor firm Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain. And many of those in attendance helped Ginzberg fund the film. They were joined by family and old friends of Henderson’s who flew in from around the country and Canada. After the show, Ginzberg made her thank yous, and Henderson joined her on stage for a brief word. He thanked his mother, and also the crowd. “Thank you all for coming,” he said, “and making this the most special day of my life.”

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