Filmmaker talks ‘Milk,’ Prop. 8
January 13, 2009
Filmmaker Jenni Olson won’t be surprised to see picketers outside Holiday Village Cinema before the screenings of her documentary short film "575 Castro St.," which shows before "Shouting Fire," Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 2:30 p.m.
The picketers, she predicts, will be her friends who opposed the passage of Prop. 8 in California Nov. 4. Olson, an outspoken gay advocate, is married with a wife and two children. "People are understandably and reasonably angry about Prop. 8 and are seeking ways to empower themselves," she said. She went on to say that, from the beginning, she thought a boycott of Sundance was a "misguided" idea. "I want to make sure a dialogue continues, that’s the most important thing," she said. "I want to put my energy into having reasonable conversations with people who voted yes on Prop. 8. I want to work out a game plan."
Here she paraphrases Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to hold public office in California. He served just 11 months as a city supervisor before he and Mayor George Mascone were assassinated.. "It’s about coming out," she said. "It’s the only way to achieve our rights."
Olson filmed "575 Castro St." on the empty set of Gus Van Sant’s biopic "Milk." Filmmakers restored the civil rights leader’s shop to its appearance in the1970s, when it was the home of Castro Camera and the defacto headquarters for activists late in the decade.
Olson used films developed in the shop as inspiration and paired the footage she shot with an audio recording Harvey Milk prepared in case he were assassinated. "Here we are, 30 years later, and ‘Milk,’ this giant studio picture is being made," she said. "It felt like a connection back to those Super 8 (millimeter) films."
Olson has been involved in preserving Milk’s original 15-minute tape and was asked by the studio to make the film. Coincidentally, the recording she uses as voiceover in her film comprises the narrative backbone of "Milk."
"It was really beautiful and haunting on that empty set," she said in a telephone interview Monday. "They took over the entire district. It’s such a significant film and I’m proud to be a part of it in a small way, to make a documentary of that set."
Olson, whose film "Joy of Life" was featured in Sundance in 2005, said that "Milk" shows progress in gay mainstream movies because it portrays gays acting as a community to push for equality rather than foundering in the closet as they have in other gay-themed movies such as "Brokeback Mountain."
On the other hand, she called it "nitpicking" to insist that only gay actors play plum gay roles, such as the role of Harvey Milk played in the studio film by Sean Penn. Casting is a huge part of how movies get the green light, she said, and often it’s more important to get a project completed than to gripe about casting choice.
Olson, one of the founders of Planetout.com and gay.com, said she appreciated Sundance’s decision to pair her film with a feature-length documentary about freedom of expression. At Sundance, Olson has earned her stripes as a filmmaker and an organizer. In 1997, the first year she had a film in the festival, she helped start the Queer Brunch. The event, to be held this Sunday, Jan. 18, at Grub Steak Restaurant on Sidewinder Drive, has become one of the largest social gatherings of the festival. It attracts about 800 people every year and is open to the public. Olson bills the brunch as "the least exclusive event at Sundance" because sponsors Outfest and Here Networks, which recently purchased the Advocate and Out magazines from PlanetOut won’t stop people at the door. "It’s a chance to come together and chat, even if it’s not about making gay movies."
Olson extolled the importance of the festival as a platform for gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people to engage in a dialogue. "When we come together to see images of ourselves, it’s catalytic," she said. "It’s a moment we get to have conversations with each other and shape our beliefs and ideas. It has an affirming force not simply on the identity level but on an emotional level."
Just the facts
Showtimes for "575 Castro St."
Mon. Jan 19 9:00 p.m. – Temple Theatre
Tue. Jan 20 2:30 p.m. – Holiday Village Cinema III
Thu. Jan 22 6:45 p.m. – Broadway Centre Cinemas V, Salt Lake City
Fri. Jan 23 8:30 a.m. – Holiday Village Cinema III
Sat. Jan 24 noon – Temple Theatre
The 13th Annual Queer Brunch takes place on Sunday Jan. 18 from 11a.m. until 1p.m. at the Grub Steak Restaurant at 2200 Sidewinder Drive