A biographical drama about the life and political rise of historic San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is slated to begin production in San Francisco in January 2008.
Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn will start as Milk, who was the first openly gay man elected to the board of supervisors.
Milk was elected to the board in 1977 and the movie will follow his election and culminate with the assassination of Milk and Mayor George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978.
Gus Van Sant will direct the film, which will base its operations on Treasure Island.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Van Sant and his talented cast and crew to San Francisco,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
“Although this is a tragic story, we know it’s a part of our history that must be shared with a wide audience,” he added.
Milk will be produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the Academy Award-winning producers of American Beauty, through The Jinks/Cohen Company.
The announcement was made by Focus CEO James Schamus and Groundswell CEO Michael London. London will also serve in a producing capacity on the film.
Milk is being executive-produced by Bruna Papandrea of Groundswell; William Horberg; and Dustin Lance Black (Big Love), who wrote the original screenplay.
Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was an activist and politician, and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America; in 1977, he was voted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
He served as Supervisor from January 1, 1978, until fellow San Francisco Supervisor Dan White shot and killed both Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978.
Mayor Moscone with Supervisor Milk.
San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, left, arrives at the San Francisco Hall of Justice after being taken into custody at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Dan White was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors the same year as Harvey Milk.
After a frustrating year on the board, and in the face of mounting financial pressures, White unexpectedly announced his resignation.
A few days later, he changed his mind and asked Mayor George Moscone to reappoint him to his seat.
Mayor Moscone decided to appoint someone else and White found out about it from a local reporter.
On Monday of November 27, White sneaked into City Hall through a basement window, went to see Mayor Moscone and shot him to death in his office.
White then, as he reloaded his revolver, walked across the building, found Supervisor Harvey Milk (a vocal opponent of White’s reappointment) and killed him.
Using a “diminished capacity” defense, White was convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in state prison.
White successfully argued his penchant for eating sugar laden twinkies diminished his capacity.
A year after the completion of his prison term, Dan White committed suicide.
Milk was previously the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary feature The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), directed by Rob Epstein and produced by Richard Schmiechen.
Milk will be the first non-documentary feature to explore the man’s life and career.
Mr. Schamus said, “Gus Van Sant is the perfect artist to bring to the screen the extraordinary story of Harvey Milk, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to join our partners at Groundswell in helping make this dream project a reality.”
Producer Gus Van Sant, left, attends memorial for political consultant Jim Rivaldo held November 15, 2007 in San Francisco City Hall. Rivaldo, whose campaign swept Milk to victory, spanned later decades helping elect much of San Francisco officialdom. Seen with Van Sant is Dan Nicoletta.
Photo by Bill Wilson
Harvey Milk nephew Stuart Milk before Milk campaign memorabilia crafted by Rivaldo.
Photo by Bill Wilson
Stuart Milk joined by Anne Kronenberg, an insider in the early Milk campaign. Kronenberg now serves as deputy director of policy and administration for the San Francisco Department of Health.
Photo by Bill Wilson
“The Focus team is the best in the business when it comes to provocative, socially relevant movies with world-class talent like Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn. We’re thrilled that they share our passion for telling the story of Harvey Milk,” London stated.
“We couldn’t be more proud to be working with Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn in bringing this important and moving story to the screen,” added Jinks and Cohen.
Bill Groom, whose previous credits include The Pledge (directed by Mr. Penn), will be the production designer on Milk.
Gus Van Sant has directed such films as Mala Noche (a restored version of which was re-released earlier this year), Drugstore Cowboy (which won Best Film and Best Director from the National Society of Film Critics), My Own Private Idaho (which earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay), To Die For (for which Nicole Kidman won a Golden Globe Award), Good Will Hunting (for which he received a Best Director Oscar nomination), Finding Forrester (which was honored at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival), Elephant (which won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival), and Paranoid Park (which will be released early next year).
In addition to the aforementioned multi-Oscar-winning American Beauty, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen have produced films including Tim Burton’s Big Fish; Peyton Reed’s Down with Love; Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten.
Harris Savides, in his fifth feature collaboration with Mr. Van Sant, will be the cinematographer on the film.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Van Sant and his talented cast and crew to San Francisco,” welcomed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
“Although this is a tragic story, we know it’s a part of our history that must be shared with a wide audience.”
“San Francisco residents and businesses will be welcoming and gracious hosts to the production.”
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a friend and supporter of Harvey Milk remarked, “I am thrilled that this project is happening. To Harvey and many in the LGBT community, San Francisco is home.
“It is a fitting a tribute to Harvey’s life and work to have this movie filmed here.”
The film will base its operations on Treasure Island.
In addition, the film will qualify for the film production incentive program known as “Scene in San Francisco,” which was introduced by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and signed into legislation in May 2006.
“We tailored the deal to meet everyone’s needs, and the outcome will be an influx of spending by the production company and the creation of hundreds of jobs for local union workers,” said Film Commission Executive Director Stefanie Coyote.
Pat Murphy contributed to this report.
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Sentinel Editor & Publisher
In his youth, Pat Murphy worked as a General Assignment reporter for the Richmond Independent, the Berkeley Daily Gazette, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as Managing Editor of the St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger at age 21. Murphy also launched ValPak couponing in San Francisco, as the company’s first San Francisco franchise owner. He walked the bricks, developing ad strategy for a broad range of restaurants and merchants. Pat knows what works and what doesn’t work. His writing skill has been employed by marketing agencies, including Don Solem & Associates. He has covered San Francisco governance for the past ten years. Pat scribes an offbeat view of the human family through Believe It or What. Email Pat at SanFranciscoSentinel@yahoo.com.
Bill Wilson is a veteran freelance photographer whose work is published by San Francisco and Bay Area media. Bill embraced photography at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR). Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past three years.
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