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San Francisco Relives '78 for Harvey Milk Film
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San Francisco Relives '78 for Harvey Milk Film

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San Francisco Relives '78 for Harvey Milk Film

San Francisco Relives '78 for Harvey Milk Film
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There's a biopic in the works on San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was murdered at City Hall in 1978. So director Gus Van Sant asks San Franciscans to dress in '70s clothes and gather on Sunday for a recreation of Gay Freedom Day.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In San Francisco, film director Gus Van Sant is shooting a biopic about Harvey Milk. Sean Penn plays Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in U.S. history. Milk won a spot on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s.

Mr. HARVEY MILK (American Politician; Gay Rights Activist): San Francisco (unintelligible) for interesting because of the fact I'm gay that becomes the big media event. That sells the newspapers but it's very important that we realize that I was elected as a candidate who was gay - (unintelligible) gay candidate.

NORRIS: Harvey Milk was also a pioneer simply because he owned a neighborhood store in San Francisco and he was out of the closet. In the 1970s, it was unusual for gay business owners to be open about their sexual orientation even in San Francisco.

SIEGEL: Harvey Milk became a martyr. On November 27th, 1978, he was brutally murdered in city hall, along with Mayor George Moscone. Now, for the filming of the movie, a little bit of San Francisco is returning to 1978.

Yesterday, hundreds of people showed up to recreate Gay Freedom Day for the biopic, reporter Nancy Mullane went too.

NANCY MULLANE: You can't make a movie about Harvey Milk without people and lots of them. Milk was bigger than life. He led rallies, marches and parades, openly encouraging people who were still in the closet to come out. So when filmmakers shooting a new movie about Milk put out a call for volunteer extras, more than a thousand showed up. They filled the street in front of San Francisco City Hall. The filmmakers also put out a '70s checklist of what to wear and what not to wear.

Ms. ELLE BAY (Volunteer Extra, "Milk"): This was my mom's shirt actually in the '70s.

MULLANE: Elle Bay(ph) came with two friends. She says, even though she wasn't there in the '70s, the story of Harvey Milk is important to her.

Ms. BAY: I was not even born yet. No, we were just talking about that. I'm actually - I really believe in the gay rights and so I think it's really cool like, all that he's sacrificed for the city and, you know, and his life and everything like that. I think it's a cool thing to commemorate, and what better way.

MULLANE: One of the film's producers, Dan Jinks, said, they all look great in their '70s tank tops, short shorts and leather. But, they were wearing too much.

Mr. DAN JINKS (Producer, "Milk"): I think that they are way too many of them in the back that have their shirts on. It's kind of hot.

MULLANE: By noon, first assistant director, David Webb, gave the crowd some directions, every one come forward, move over to the sides, and spread out.

Mr. DAVID WEBB (First Assistant Director, "Milk"): All right. Feel it folks, back on action, and action.

MULLANE: Suddenly, a man looking eerily like Harvey Milk walked on to the stage, dark hair, wide bright eyes, arms outstretched, exposed.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

MULLANE: The crowd impulsively begin cheering like a thunder that's been waiting for release. As cameras rolled all around, Sean Penn, channels Harvey Milk.

Mr. SEAN PENN (Actor): (As Harvey Milk) My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr. PENN: (As Harvey Milk) I want to recruit you for the fight to preserve your democracy. Brothers and sisters, you must come out.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

MULLANE: Then, just as the assistant director, Webb, was about to signal for the shooting to stop, the crowd spontaneously begin chanting.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

MULLANE: For people who knew Milk and even for those who only knew about him, it's been an emotional journey back in time - a reminder of how far the gay rights movement has come and how many have been lost to the AIDS epidemic. Cleve Jones was one of Harvey Milk's best friends and who's a consultant on the film.

Mr. CLEVE JONES (Gay Rights Activist; Consultant, "Milk"): Honestly, I don't think I've been this happy in about 30 years. It's very cool to see and my belief system does not include heaven above but I'm suspending my disbelief long enough to allow visions of Harvey Milk up there just laughing.

MULLANE: The movie will be released this fall around the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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