10/28/2022

The Times of Harvey Milk

Pioneers of Queer Cinema

10/28/2022 | 7:00 PM

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Director Rob Epstein got his start at the age of 20 working with filmmaker and AIDS activist Peter Adair on the landmark LGBTQ documentary Word is Out (1977). Epstein intended his next film to focus on California’s Proposition 6, commonly known as the Briggs Initiative—a homophobic gambit that would ban gays and lesbians from teaching in the state’s schools. It was during this period of tumult that Harvey Milk, the first non-incumbent openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office, came to Epstein’s attention. As a leader, Milk was instrumental in bringing fierce opposition to the Briggs Initiative, which ultimately would lose support even in conservative regions of the state. Following Milk’s tragic assassination only a few weeks later, Epstein and team knew that a film concentrating on Milk as “a man of his times” needed to be their next project.

Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk is a powerful record of the beloved activist/politician’s inspirational life and work, which illuminates not only a key period in the struggle for gay rights but also universal themes of resilience in the face of oppression. Through deep archival biographical material and emotion-filled reminiscences of friends and colleagues, Epstein reveals an intimate and complex portrait of the many sides of Milk (including his irreverent sense of humor). From Milk’s improbable, heroic rise to his horrific, senseless murder, Epstein’s work serves as a potent and unwavering eyewitness to history. As noted filmmaker, gay rights historian and activist Bob Hawk, who served as an archivist and researcher on the documentary, states, “this Academy Award-winning film has stood the test of time and remains an experience of profound impact.” The acclaimed documentary was named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2012. —Todd Wiener (Rob Epstein, USA, 1984, 90 min.)

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with Telling Pictures, the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center and Earle-Tones Music, Inc.

Preceded by:

Coming Out

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be gay in 1972, this joyful time capsule from Arthur J. Bressan Jr. (1943-1987) offers up one pretty fabulous perspective on the time. Bressan gives us a straightforward documentation of San Francisco’s 1972 Gay Freedom Day parade utilizing simple, non-synch sound, on-the-street interviews and joyous footage of the day (this was the same approach taken by Lilli Vincenz in Gay and Proud, her pioneering short portrait of New York City’s Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day in June of 1970—a.k.a. the first LGBT Pride).

Like Gay USA, Bressan’s subsequent feature-length documentation of the Gay Freedom Day parades of 1977, this 1972 short offers up a thrilling collective portrait of gay liberation. Ecstatic celebrants fill the streets as we hear on the soundtrack a series of vibrant interviews with attendees who speak of their lives and their loves. We hear primarily from gay people (sharing the joys and struggles of being gay) along with a smattering of straights (one woman describes how she prays for the homosexuals as they go by, while a straight male ally vehemently expresses his support saying, “they’re human; they’re just like anybody else”). Bressan would also go on to incorporate this footage (as well as the Lilli Vincenz Gay and Proud footage of the first parade) into Gay USA.

It’s worth pointing out that this was actually San Francisco’s first major gay pride celebration. (According to the official history of San Francisco Pride celebrations, there had been a small informal march in 1970 and none in 1971.)

The film’s rich, saturated colors vividly bring out the wild colorful costumes of San Francisco’s handsome young homosexuals who still seem fresh off the high of Stonewall just three years earlier. The concluding montage of Coming Out (set to the anthemic 1969 Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun”) gives us an uplifting stream of beautiful, long-haired, bearded hippie queers and an optimistic sensibility for a movement that we can draw inspiration from today. —Jenni Olson (Arthur J. Bressan Jr., USA, 1972, 10 min.)

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive on behalf of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project

Preservation funded by The Ahmanson Foundation in association with the Sundance Institute

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