‘Milk’ premieres in San Francisco

Gus Van Sant film opens in historic area

The past became the present, and the present the past, as Gus Van Sant’s Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” made its world premiere at the Castro Theater in San Francisco on Tuesday, steps away from the camera store where Milk championed gay rights and became the first openly gay man to win election to a major office.

Focus Features opens “Milk” on Nov. 26, virtually 30 years to the day since Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed.

Usually, onlookers at a preem are there to catch a glimpse of stars. That wasn’t the case here. In a fitting tribute to Milk, the crowd lining Castro Street chanted and waved placards in opposition to Proposition 8, which would overturn a new law allowing gay marriages in California. One of the few times the crowd took a break from chanting and erupted into applause was when Sean Penn — who plays Milk — got out of his car. Film’s other stars — Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and Alison Pill — joined Penn, along with several of the real-life characters they played. Universal’s Ron Meyer, Marc Shmuger and David Linde also were on hand.

Post-screening bash was held at San Francisco’s Beaux-Arts City Hall, where Van Sant and Focus topper James Schamus were deluged with congratulations. “The film is so contemporary,” Schamus said. “And to hold the premiere here, at the Castro Theater and City Hall, is amazing.”