The First Milk Film
When Gus Van Sant’s biopic Milk premiered at San Francisco’s Castro Theater on 28 October 2008, it was not the first story of the slain politician to be appear there. In 1984, another Milk film, Rob Epstein’s documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, premiered at the Castro. The project, which had taken over six years to make, began when Milk was still alive. Director Epstein was living in San Francisco working on the documentary Word is Out when Harvey Milk emerged as pivotal figure in Californian politics. By 1978, Milk was leading the fight against Prop. 6 (aka The Briggs Initiative), and Epstein decided to document this campaign for a film he had tentatively named American Values in Conflict. It wasn’t till a few months later, when Epstein stood with the over 50,000 mourners who spontaneously marched down Market Street in a candlelight vigil for the slain Milk and Mayor George Moscone, that he realized the significance of his film project. Between paying gigs, Epstein researched, fundraised, wrote and recorded material for his film. He got playwright Harvey Fierstein, who was enjoying great success with his Torch Song Trilogy at the time, to narrate. Its premiere proved a momentous event both for the filmmakers and city, who could see with sadness and hope the events that had torn them apart years before. The film went on to win the Best Documentary Oscar.