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VINE VOICEon June 12, 2004
I was one of the millions who probably heard of Harvey Milk at some point in my life, but never connected any dots to his life. Then one summer day, while housesitting, I found an old VHS tape of this documentary called "The Times of Harvey Milk". Not having anything better to do, I popped it in the VCR and sat back to watch. Two hours later, my life, perspectives, and outlooks were dramatically transformed by meeting Supervisor Harvey Milk. So it is with great excitement that this monumental film which pays tribute to a monumental time finally comes to DVD, and warrants my attention for my 200th review.
"The Times of Harvey Milk" is a transformative documentary both in style and information, created by visionary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen. The film not only covers the life of Milk, but the times which surrounded him that allows for a broader, more in-depth story. From the opening moments of the film, we learn of Harvey's untimely death, so as not to aggrandize it. Through personal interviews, newsreel coverage, and personal film shot at certain events, everything is brought to a real, intense focus. You feel as if you are watching the events unfold as San Franscians must have done in the late 1970's.
The shining stars of the film are the personal interviews given by people who knew Harvey best. Tom Ammiano, friend of Harvey, gives the film a sense of outrage of the assassinations. Jim Elliot gives a heartwarming straight man, unionist perspective to show us Harvey's universality. Henry Der allows us to see Harvey's political side. Jannine Yeoman's covering of the Milk campaign and post -assassination trial gives a sense of immediacy and urgency to the story, and a more professional viewpoint. Bill Kraus, a gay activist, soon to die of AIDS, provided a sense of Milk's activism.
A couple of interviewee struck me personally. First, lesbian activist Sally Gearheart's testimony of her work with Milk on the Proposition 6 campaign is very compelling, but her comments on the candlelight vigil and riots following the verdict are particularly poignant. Anne Kronenberg, who served as Milk's campaign manager, provides the zeal and optimism of the youth who surrounded and supported Milk in his efforts. Last comes Tory Hartmann, who's warmth on the screen is only seconded by her connection with Harvey. She provides an emotional recollection of the candlelight march that will leave you in tears.
Coming to DVD, this film looks rich and new, due to UCLA and its preservation processes. In addition to the film, the DVD brings you a second disk loaded with special features, from interviews with the film makers, to an 25th anniversary update of the Milk legacy by those who knew him best. I was particularly touched watching the "Alternate ending" section, in which Jim Elliot discloses, after describing his own journey as a straight man accepting homosexual Harvey Milk, learns his own daughter is also a lesbian, and that it was all okay, thereby completing validating Milk's thoughts on coming out.
Not enough words can be said about "The Times of Harvey Milk", a visionary, compelling documentary that should be shown, shared with everyone across this country. Milk's legacy is not only for his homosexual brothers and sisters; it is a legacy for all of us. His legacy is that of tolerance towards all, peaceful protest, fighting for what you believe in, and above all else, just having the best time of your life.
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on May 26, 2004
On DVD at last!!!!!!! Saw this movie on PBS years ago, and I cried and cried. Harvey Milk SHOULD have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize even AFTER his death because black/white/(gay)/straight/WHATEVER, Harvey was a man of the PEOPLE - caring, compassionate, genuine. Who knows, if he hadn't been murdered, MAYBE we'd be voting for President Milk this November.
Buy this DVD, remember Harvey, and give thanks that there were (and still ARE!) wonderful people like him who fought for the rights of EVERYONE in our (gay) community.
BLESS you Harvey, you have become a LEGEND!!!
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on January 20, 2005
As I browsed my local library DVD collection I stumbled upon this film and was curious, because I had never heard of Harvey Milk or the tragic story surrounding his political career.

For those of you who do not know, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the US (he was a Supervisor for San Francisco.) His time in office had many highlights; however, a fellow Supervisor assassinated him after Milk served only 11-months in office.

Yes, this is a documentary, and although the story is built with tragedy in mind one must remember the good that Milk built upon. His policies helped more then just the gay community, and it is disheartening to see that his story is not more prominently featured.

This was a nice DVD in general, and as documentaries go it is fairly good quality. This is a intriguing and well-done film that all should see, and may it make you a little more aware like it did me.
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on June 17, 2006
Robert Epstein and Richard Schmiechen have crafted an eloquent and touching documentary that brings to life a historically important political figure in our nation's history: Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public elected official in San Francisco. Milk, together with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, were assassinated in November 1978.

The film does not concentrate on a biographical portrait of Milk, but instead focuses on the eleven months he served as San Francisco supervisor. It brings life to history, albeit recent history, a quality that is lacking in so many historical documentaries. What makes this possible, in many ways, is the ample news footage that was available to trace the events that comprised those eleven months, and the personal commentary provided by witnesses and participants of the events documented. The additional footage and audio commentary that comprises this 2-DVD set sheds more light on the Harvey Milk legacy. Milk was a politician by nature, much in the same way as John Kennedy was, but without the money. It shows how much a charasmatic figure can accomplish when the mission seems clear. Milk's humor, candor, and intelligence shines through.

I first saw this film in the late 1980s on public television, and saw it a few times since. Watching it today, what shocked me the most is that Dan White, who served a little more than five years for the slayings, received no psychiatric treatment while incarcerated. White's defense attorney stated quite clearly in news footage that White was a suicide risk the day the verdict was announced. White killed himself less than two years after his release. I am clearly no apologist for Dan White, but he was failed by the very system that awarded him his freedom a scant five years after killing two men.

Milk was elected to public office in the few years after the notion of the "personal is political" became popular. Milk exemplified and capitalized on this notion brilliantly. What Milk's legacy shows me, today, is that personal authenticity is the most essential quality needed in our public officials. Integrity and intelligence springs from authenticity, as does clarity of purpose. And a sense of wit and humor is the second most essential quality. Milk possessed both.

P.S.: I thought of this after I originally posted my review. Milk was assassinated a few short years before the AIDS epidemic emerged as a public health threat within, and outside of, the gay community. Had Milk been on the scene at the time, I have no doubt he would have used his office and political power to the greatest extent possible to affect legislation and government accountibility in their response to the epidemic. His death really altered the course of history.
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I had seen this wonderful documentary even before watching the brilliant movie Milk, but watching the Criterion release was a brand new experience. The picture quality is shockingly great considering that much of the footage comes from random sources, but the greatest prize is all the special features. Harvey Milk's story is exceedingly inspiring, and for anyone who is casually a fan of his life will no doubt want to devour every bonus available. Fortunately, Criterion delivered, as they always do, and provided us with hours of great stuff.

For those who have not seen this documentary, however, let the bonus content simmer for a while and dive right into the feature presentation. It is a content rich masterpiece that captures the efforts of one of the world's greatest gay civil rights activists. It was also made in an important time, when homophobia was especially epic due to the AIDS crisis and the fact that Milk murderer Dan White had been recently released from prison after only a short sentence. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this touching documentary lead Mr. White to kill himself. Not that that was its intention. The film is very neutral and is by no means an object of propaganda. It simply celebrates the life of a brave man who fought hard, succeeded, and inspired millions around the world.

If you are gay, you MUST watch this. Not having an in-depth understanding of Harvey Milk's life would be like being black and never having heard of Martin Luther King Jr. He's that important. But straight people owe it to themselves to watch this film as well. Anybody can be inspired by brilliant people, and certainly you don't have to be gay to stand up for gay rights. Harvey Milk was a great man. I only wish more people knew about his life.
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on January 13, 2009
This is quite an extraordinary film, but then it covers an extraordinary man and human being, Harvey Milk. For the longest time, I've been wanting to watch this film, but for various reasons, I haven't gotten around to it. Even when I finally sat down and watched it, I delayed it for a week or so because I had a feeling I was going to cry during part of it. After that delay, I stopped making excuses and just popped it in and let it rip.

The film is extraordinary for many reasons. It focuses on only a few people who knew Harvey Milk very well. Documentaries these days try to encompass too much information, and end up shortchanging their subjects because of this. This film doesn't. The handful of people (roughly five or so) who comprise the interview segments are quite moving and talk about Harvey in such a positive and meaningful way. They also cry when recounting their feelings during the assassination of Harvey and the mayor of San Francisco at the tim, George Moscone.

The film is also sad in that when it shows Dan White, the man who killed Harvey and George, engaging in the same tired, cliched, "family values" rhetoric that is still permeating our political discourse (the recent passing of Prop 8 in California is still fresh in my mind). There's a scene in which California State Senator John Briggs attempting to pass Prop 6, which would ban gay people from teaching in the public schools on the ridiculous, asinine claim that gay people are more prone to molest children (they're not, and luckily, this proposition didn't pass, much to the relief of gays, lesbians, and intelligent human beings everywhere). The scene where Milk debates Briggs is painful to watch, as Briggs is absolutely clueless about it all, preferring to deal with stupid, stock "family values" phrases, and Milk shreds his arguments to pieces. It's sad that we're still debating this garbage, because gays are just as equal as anyone.

It also shows the laughable defense of White by his lawyers that he ate too much junk food, and that despite having a gun and extra ammunition, didn't want to really kill White. Dan White had resigned from the city council abruptly, then changed his mind. He campaigned for the mayor of San Francisco to reinstate him, but the mayor said no. White then snuck into City Hall through a window, shot the mayor, then shot Milk. Many have commented that if White had only shot the mayor, he would have been sentenced for life. But shooting a gay man (and a very prominent gay activist/politician) provoked "sympathy" from the jury, because White was a purveyor of "family values", so White got off easy, only serving five years for manslaughter, not murder. The verdict provoked riots in San Francisco. But two years after White got released from prison, he killed himself. It's hard to tell whether White really wanted to kill Milk for his sexual orientation. The film never shows White making any overly homophobic statements, just the usual "family values" stuff. Milk, sadly, just happened to be in the room with the mayor at the time that Dan White came in. Ulitmately, it's kind of immaterial whether White meant to kill Milk for his homosexuality, because White killed two human beings, a mayor and an extraordinary man called Harvey Milk. The whole town of San Francisco was shattered by this idiotic killing, and the scene with the candlelight vigil for the mayor and Harvey is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen in a documentary/film EVER. The people extend for literally miles and miles, and if you don't cry during this scene, you're not human. I did.

This is one of the most moving documentaries I've ever seen. It's phenomenal that only a handful of people (only 5 people are interviewed in the film) can make you feel that you know Harvey Milk by the end of the film. Harvey was a deeply charismatic, wonderful man who inspired people and believed that everyone deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. That's just human decency, and Harvey's legacy lives on.
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Before the Sean Penn biopic "Milk" based on the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office, there was Robert Epstein's "The Times of Harvey Milk". A documentary that showcases Harvey Milk as he would run for supervisor in San Francisco and became the voice for the gay community but also for minorities, a champion of gay and civil rights and would eventually showcase the day of his assassination and what transpired after his murder.

The documentary details the life of Harvey Milk focusing less on his personal life but more on his emerging rise as a politician but how he changed the lives of many people and through this film, interviewed are those who worked on his campaign, those who worked with him professionally, those who were driven by his work and his passion to help people, those who interviewed him and those who were straight but eventually realized how unique and important he was to the community.

"MILK" gives us a glimpse of the life Harvey Milk had and learning more about his challenges running for political office (unsuccessfully) three times, being on the opposing side of Dianne Feinstein at times and also fighting against proposition 6 (The Briggs Initiative) which was on the ballot on Nov. 1978 in which conservative state legislator John Briggs of Orange County wanted to ban gays and lesbians and anyone who supported gay rights from working in California's public schools.

The film would also show a juxtaposition of Supervisor Dan White, how he and Harvey Milk would work together but eventually, White would splinter off and end up resigning from his job to raise a family and then to quickly try to get it back months later, which would lead to him assassinating San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Showing us the amazing Candlelight Memorial featuring 45,000 people on the night of the deaths of both men and the riots that erupted when the verdict was read on Dan White's murder case.

"The Times of Harvey Milk" is an exhilarating documentary featuring archived footage showcasing Harvey Milk but also a portrait of how the city of San Francisco was at that time period.

VIDEO:

"The Times of Harvey Milk" is presented in he aspect ratio of 1:33:1. Because the film was shot in 1984 and features plenty of archived footage from a variety of cameras and sources, as expected from a documentary, you're going to have quality that is a bit mixed. But for the most part, the picture quality is pretty good for this film and as one would expect an early '80s film to look quite aged, if anything, the fact that this film gives us a vivid portrait of Harvey Milk and the City of San Francisco in the '70s, I don't think anyone would complain. This documentary looks good considering its age and its source material.

"The Times of Harvey Milk" was supervised and approved by director Robert Epstein. According to the Criterion Collection, the new digital transfer was created on a 4K Spirit Datacine in 2K resolution from UCLA's restored 35 mm duplicate negative, which was created from the original 16 mm color negative B rolls, 16 mm reversal preproduction elements, and the original 1-inch production master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

"The Times of Harvey Milk" is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround and dialogue is clear and understandable. Considering the various audio sources utilized in this film, audio is clear and I heard no major hissing or pops.

According to the Criterion Collection, the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from UCLA's restored magnetic track, which was created fro the original 35 mm 6-track master sound mix and original PCM-F1 stereo music master by Mark Isham. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Sonic Solutions and Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using Sonic Solutions and AudioCube's integrated audio workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"The Times of Harvey Milk - The Criterion Collection #557' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

* Audio commentary featuring director Robert Epstein, co-editor Deborah Hoffmann and photographer Daniel Nicoletta. A wonderful commentary as the trio discuss Harvey Milk and the various people who took part in the film, the footage shot in San Francisco and also the murder, the trial and more.
* Postscript - (2:42) Featuring footage that was supposed to be used as the original conclusion but wasn't used at all.
* Trailer - (3:16) The original theatrical trailer for "The Times of Harvey Milk"
* Jon Else - (19:48) Filmmaker of Jon Else talkes a look at the documentary and why "The Times of Harvey Milk" is significant.
* Two Films, One Legacy - (22:51) A featurette featuring comparisons between both "The Times of Harvey Milk" and Gus Van Sant's film "Milk" and how both focus on Harvey Milk's legacy. Featuring Rob Epstein, Van Sant, actor James Franco, and Milk friends Cleve Jones, Anne Kronenberg and more.
* Harvey Milk Recordings - Featuring video and audio recordings of Harvey Milk that shaped his political activism. The footage featured are: Out of the Bars and Into the Streets (13:51), Texas Gay Confernece Five (47:34), Harvey Milk Speaks Out (2:45), Anti-Proposition 6 Election Night Party (10:04), Harvey Milk's Political Will (13:18)
* Director's Research Tapes - (19:54) Draft interviews with various people in Harvey Milk's life including his boyfriend Scott Smith and Milk's colleagues which weren't used in the final cut of the film.
* From the Castro to the Oscars - Footage featuring the 1984 premiere at the Castro Theatre (7:36) presented by writer Vito Russo and a Night at the Oscars (3:06) in which the film won an Oscar.
* The Dan White Case - Featuring a newsclip (4:05) of Dan White quitting his job as a fireman to become part of the Board of Supervisors and panel discussion (29:29) at the University of San Francisco featuring those who were involved in Dan White's defense team and answering questions from the audience.
* Harry Britt, Milk's Successor - (9:48) A speech by Britt back in 2003 celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Milk's death and what Harvey Milk mean to him.
* Candlelight Memorial - (7:20) - On November 27th, 2003, on the 25th Anniversary of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone's death, SF Supervisor Tom Ammiano and the late mayor's daughter Rebecca take part in honoring the two men.

EXTRAS:

Included is a 32-page booklet featuring "Making History" by B. Ruby Rich, "Harvey's Enduring Legacy" by Stuart Milk and "Restoring the Times of Harvey Milk" by Ross Lipman.

JUDGMENT CALL:

The Criterion Collection is known for bringing out a series of important classic and contemporary films on Blu-ray and DVD.

"The Times of Harvey Milk" is one of those important documentaries of a man who fought for gay and civil rights in San Francisco but became an inspiration for many people all over the world.

Consider the time when Harvey Milk came to San Francisco, gay men were ridiculed, beaten and treated badly by the community, including the police who protected the city as many found homosexuality as a form of deviance and unacceptable behavior. But when a hippie who owned the Castro Camera Shop in the emerging gay Castro district became a political activist, this intelligent man knew that the barriers that existed towards homosexuality had to be broken.

While the film "Milk" would feature the personal and political life of Harvey Milk, "The Times of Harvey Milk" is a documentary that showcases the true Harvey Milk on camera. Featuring archived news footage to footage shot by filmmaker Rob Epstein.

From the teamsters who joined Milk to boycott Coors Beer in the Castro Area, to Milk beginning his political career in 1973 and losing each time for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the California State Assembly. But eventually his persistence and perseverance would win over the labor unions and now he not only became a champion for gay and civil rights, but he began winning the respect of many people in his area because he was a man of his word and eventually would lead to him being elected for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

But what made this documentary feel so real and captivating was its use of important footage of the times but also candid interviews (shot in the 1983) with people like Anne Kronenberg (an aid to Harvey Milk during his campaign), fellow San Francisco Board of Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, Executive Director of the Chinese for Affirmative Action Henry Der, newscaster Jeannine Yeomans, public school teacher Tom Ammiano and several others.

There is no doubt that director Robert Epstein and producer Richard Schmiechen have created a special documentary but done quite tastefully in showcasing Harvey Milks accomplishments but also creating a historic film that shows viewers the emergence of the presence of the gay community in San Francisco.

Despite winning an Academy Award, "The Times of Harvey Milk" will have its fair of criticism because it is biased documentary as interviews focus on those who were closest to Harvey Milk and does not show interview those who were against Harvey Milk's politics.

Nor are their interviews with jurors who would talk about their reasoning for giving Dan White only eight years of prison time (he served only five years for manslaughter) which was an injustice as he killed two human beings, who happen to be the mayor of San Francisco and one of the most well-known Board of Supervisor and politicians in America but also an injustice that if the crime was created by a person of color or someone who was not a well-known conservative and also a Board of Supervisor, Dan White, they would probably be convicted and serve life in prison or electrocuted.

There is so many layers to this documentary that the time went rather quickly. I was amazed by the archived footage that was utilized for this documentary, how well it was cut but also, while showcasing Harvey Milk, how the film shows a juxtaposition of the man who murdered him and how thousands responded on the night of Milk and Mayor George Moscone's death but the violence that took place after the verdict was read.

And what makes this Criterion Collection release so impressive is that it doesn't stop there. They have included a wonderful amount of special features that compliment the film.

Not only do you get wonderful audio commentary, but you also get a good number of interviews, interviews, archived video and audio interviews, the recorded will by Harvey Milk, the screening of "The Times of Harvey Milk" at the Castro Theatre, video from the 25th Anniversary of Milk/Moscone's death but also tying the documentary to the recent Gus Van Sant film "Milk". But possibly the most significant feature that I felt was quite important to see was the panel discussion on Supervisor Dan White's trial and to hear form the defense lawyers who represented him on their strategy and their thoughts on Dan White at the time and the elimination of the California's "diminished capacity" law.

Already an impressive collection of special features and audio commentary, if there was one interview that I would have loved to see included in this Blu-ray release of "The Times of Harvey Milk" was an interview with homicide Frank Falzon who came out and said in 1998 that when he met Dan White in 1984, White confessed that it was premeditated murder and that White also wanted to kill Carol Ruth Silver and Willie Brown. Also, it would have been great to see a follow-up interview with those who were featured in the film. People such as Tom Ammiano who was the public school teacher and later became a Board of Supervisor and also elected as a California State Assemblyman, Henry Der and possibly a few others.

Granted, that's me being a little picky but with the special features that you get in this release alone, it is quite impressive and The Criterion Collection really went all out to make "The Times of Harvey Milk" on Blu-ray and DVD a fantastic release!

Overall, if you were inspired by Harvey Milk, curious about the politics of the time or even seeing how the fight for gay and civil rights evolved from what Harvey Milk accomplished in his political life, I definitely recommend "The Times of Harvey Milk"! A five-star release from the Criterion Collection and is highly recommended!
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on January 13, 2005
I have owned a copy of this film for a long time. I have probably watched it ten times, and I always tear up a little at each viewing. From the beginning newsreel, of a shell-shocked Diane Feinstein announcing the less than hour old murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, to the final reel of Harvey Milk's prophetic and haunting statements, the viewer is mesmerized. Though Harvey Milk was a San Francisco city supervisor, his election in the 1970's, that of an open and unrepentant gay man, made national headlines . He was a ray of hope to gay people everywhere, who at that time were unrepresented and, for the most part, still forced into the closet. This film not only gives insight into the philosiphy of Harvey Milk, but is a rare document into that not so long ago but seemingly ancient time. Milk was a very eloquent speaker, and his sensibility, logic, and unapologetic viewpoint more often than not made mincemeat of any verbal opponent. This is best displayed in the footage of his debate with then California Senator Briggs, a buffoon like character, who not only was a terrible speaker, who couldn't even clearly express his arguably irrational fears, but who in fact seemed much prissier than his nemesis Milk. The public view at that time was about family values, with the Anita Bryants condeming homosexuals to Hell for their decadent ways (Old times come round again....). Milk's voice opposed this view openly, and he seemed to predict his early demise at the hands of an assassin who was against what he represented. The notion of this martyrdom, and its romantic though fateful attraction to Milk, has been argued. Nevertheless, his bravery in representing the unrepresented cannot be argued, and the sordid details of his love affairs and personal life should not diminish his message, nor the admiration he deserves. This film unfolds as it happened, seeming like fiction, but all too real. As Milk is assassinated, along with the Mayor, by the homophobic and disgruntled resigned supervisor Dan White, whose subsequent trial, with the famous "Twinkie Defense", and his being sentenced to an appalling five years for the murders, resulted in riots the likes of which the city had never seen. As one of those interviewed here expresses with sad resignation,... if only the Mayor had been killed, White would have gotten life, but the fact that Milk, a gay man, had also been killed, leaned public sympathy towards White, an absurd but all too realistic conclusion.There are many moving, telling, historically signifigant moments in this film, but none so clearly represents those times, and Milk's loss and legacy, as the film of the nighttime march in San Francisco right after the murders. Seas of people, holding candles and standing silently, came together in a very moving moment in time. This film, which won best documentary at that years Oscars, transcends its subject matter, and is simply a great documentary. Gay rights have made much progress. And perhaps time has diminished their names and these memories to most all, excluding those who were there, are old enough to remember , or are gay. Nonetheless, Harvey Milk is a representive and icon of the early gay rights movement, and his legacy, through schools named after him, organizations, and his place in history as a voice for the all too often voiceless, lives on.
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on June 6, 2013
The two films, this one and "Milk," are a matched set. It's great to see how faithful the "regular" movie is, and the documentary, and its discussion of Harvey, only lends credence to Sean Penn's portrayal. Both are wonderful and both should be watched.
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on November 15, 2006
I just finished watching The Times of Harvey Milk and I struggle to find the right words to express how amazing this documentary is.

Focusing on Harvey Milk in the context of San Francisco and California in the 1970's, this film is as much about the gay community as it is about Milk himself.

Yet it captures Milk's passion without portraying him as a saint. He has temper tantrums, he lacks patience at times, but he calls on ALL of us, gay or straight, as members of the human condition, to make our world a better place. He calls us to see the links between the oppression of gays, asians, blacks, women, the poor, etc and challenges us to rise up in our own communities and fight for every one of these causes because it is the right thing to do.

The film is exquisitely made, using photographs, news reports, radio broadcasts, and interviews with Milk's friends and political cohorts. It reaches down into you and tears at your heart, it enrages you when White doesn't really get the full brunt of the law, and it inspires you with that most difficult of things... hope.
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