Change / Coming Out / The Times of Harvey Milk

Saturday, Mar 12, 2022 - 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Black and white photograph of men holding 'Harvey Milk Supervisor' Posters

UCLA Film & Television Archive presents free screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum.

Please review our required COVID-19 precautions and updated admission policies.

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In-person: filmmaker Rob Epstein.

Changes

1970

Born in 1934, entertainer, gay filmmaker and gay rights activist Pat Rocco embraced his sexuality at a young age, coming out of the closet at the age of 13. In the 1960s, Rocco was asked to photograph male nudes for a magazine and often took his movie camera with him. What started as brief 3-minute sequences slowly evolved into longer narrative films using the models he was photographing. The short films caught on and he was soon asked to build these works into full exhibitions at local Los Angeles theaters. Rocco became an instant celebrity in the gay community, receiving positive reviews for his works from the local press.

In the July 10, 1970 issue of the Los Angeles Free Press, Angela Douglas, trans activist and founder of the Transsexual Action Organization, reviewed Rocco’s anthology film Sex and the Single Gay. Douglas stated that it “suffered from technical drawbacks in sound, lighting, editing” due to the filmmaker’s limited budget, but “the segment on transsexualism is by far the most beautiful and moving. There is little ‘acting’ by Jimmy Michaels, the partial transsexual, and her upfrontness is the magic that makes it work.”

This short, titled Changes, is an earnestly forthright and sensitive non-fiction interview with the transgender protagonist. The film also includes what would become Rocco’s cinematic legacy—capturing his subjects claiming traditional heteronormative Los Angeles spaces as their own queer landscape. Jimmy Micheals is seen proudly strolling down the streets of Hollywood, Los Feliz and parts of Griffith Park.

In its complete form, Changes had been missing from Rocco’s oeuvre for decades until the Archive discovered its various fragments several few years ago. Now digitally restored and complete, audiences can enjoy the title’s theme song written and sung by the filmmaker.

Besides focusing his remaining filmmaking career on documenting the gay rights movement through the early 1980s, Rocco also was elected the first president of the Christopher Street West Association. He was also the founder of the Los Angeles Gay Pride Festivals (the first one occurring in 1974), and he founded the Hudson House shelters in Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco and San Diego. Rocco passed away in 2018, at the age of 84.

—Todd Wiener

DCP color, 17 min. Director: Pat Rocco. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive on behalf of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.
 

Coming Out

1972

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

DCP, color, 10 min. Director: Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. 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

The Times of Harvey Milk

1984

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

35mm, color, 90 min. Director: Robert Epstein. Screenwriters: Judith Coburn, Carter Wilson. With: Harvey Milk, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Kronenberg, Tory Hartmann. 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.

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