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NEWS: Film recreates night of Milk's death (Bay Area Reporter, CA)

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Film recreates night of Milk's death

by Seth Hemmelgarn


Supervisor Tom Ammiano, near camera at right, participated in the reenactment for the movie Milk of the march to City Hall following the murder of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

After taking the weekend off work, driving six hours from Eureka, and spending her rent money on a hotel room, Rebbecca Caya stood near the middle of Market Street, waiting to march. Caya was surrounded by hundreds of other people dressed in 1970s-style denim, plaid, leather, and knits who had come to re-enact the candlelight vigil that took place the night San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to march for Harvey," said the 32-year-old, who said she's seen the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk about 30 times. She said she was struck by Milk's urging of others to come out of the closet, and the spirit of hope he engendered.

The march Friday, February 8 was filmed for the movie Milk, which is being directed by Gus Van Sant. Sean Penn is playing Milk.

Milk, the first openly gay man to win elective office in the United States, was a city supervisor when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by ex-Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978 in City Hall. White, who was imprisoned for five years, committed suicide in 1985 after he was released from prison.

Besides urging gays and lesbians to come out of the closet, Milk built coalitions with organized labor and other groups and fought against anti-gay ballot measures, including the failed Briggs initiative that would have barred gays from teaching in California public schools.

Like many at the reenactment, Rick Hauptman was also at the original march. Hauptman, a member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, recalled thousands of people "totally silent and in shock" at the first vigil. That vigil stretched from the Castro down to City Hall. Hauptman has forgotten many details, but he said, "I remember the tears streaming down my face."

People who were at the original march said it was diverse in terms of age, race, and sexual orientation. The crowd gathered for the reenactment appeared to be mostly white. However, ages seemed to range from the 20s to the 60s, and all orientations appeared to be represented.

There was also a fairly broad range of awareness of who Milk was.

Gina Williams, 22, drove from Sacramento. She'd learned about Milk by looking him up on Wikipedia before coming. She said she'd seen a clip of footage of the original march from the Milk documentary. Watching it left her feeling "crushed."

"It's always devastating to hear about people striving to make a difference get pulled out."

Some talked about how much of the work remains undone. For example, federal laws still don't protect LGBT people from being fired just because of their orientation. And just a few years after Milk was murdered, AIDS hit San Francisco, and the world.

But there was gratitude for Milk's message. Patti Beadles was 14 when Milk was killed. "Because of him, I can walk down the street with my girlfriend and be okay," she said.

When the call for "Action!" came, the crowd that had been chattering and laughing just moments before went completely silent. People wore somber faces, looked straight ahead, and held up their candles. The only sounds audible were the whir of traffic in the distance and the noise of scuffling feet.

The crowd was mostly made up of volunteers, but there were also about 250 people who'd been picked from earlier casting calls, according to Jonathan Shedd, location manager for the film. The vigil that was filmed for Milk was considerably shorter than the original march, going just from Gough Street to Van Ness Avenue, and it only took about 10 minutes. Shooting for that particular scene concluded about 1 a.m. Shedd said shooting on other scenes continued until about 4:30 a.m. Filming is expected to wrap up by about March 16, he said.

Shedd said the shooting of the vigil "couldn't have gone any better."

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is playing himself in the movie, was a participant in Friday's march. "The energy was positive," he said.

Kirk Linn, who was also at the reenactment, said that at a candlelight vigil on the anniversary of Milk's death last year, there were only 55 people. But, noting the number of people in the crowd who were likely under 30, he said their presence "will show the world, 'Yes, young people actually do believe in the spirit of Harvey Milk.'"

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