The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

9.5 Overall Score

A great example of great documentary filmmaking


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Times of Harvey Milk

Studio: New Yorker Films

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): October 26, 1984

MPAA Rating: Not Rated


Harvey Milk in a gay pride parade

Being the first elected openly gay official in California made Harvey Milk enemies…but it was a surprise that the man who ended his life was actually someone he worked with. When Dan White entered the San Francisco City Hall on November 27, 1978 and killed Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, it set off a chain of events that changed a movement. The documentary follows Harvey Milk from his childhood, to election, his death, the trial of Dan White, and the aftermath as seen by his friends

Directed by Rob Epstein, The Times of Harvey Milk was widely well received. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1984 and also was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the first Sundance Film Festival. The film is primarily made up of interviews with friends and news clips from the period with Harvey Fierstein serving as narrator. In 2008, a biographical film called Milk starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin as Dan White also told the story.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the documentary (Criterion #557).


Milk, Moscone, and White

The Times of Harvey Milk is a film you need to see if you are a fan of documentaries or want to be a documentary director yourself. It is a great blend of the information you’d expect, the clips you would expect, and the pacing necessary to tell the story. It has great editing and still is a fantastic example of how a documentary should be done over twenty five years later.

What the documentary also does a great job of presenting is Milk himself. By using friends and business acquaintances, it paints a picture of a guy who could be somewhat difficult to work with at points. It also shows that Harvey was a politician and with examples like placing dog feces in a designated spot so he would “accidentally” step in it to push his dog clean-up sanction, you see that he would do what he could to succeed. The movie does a bit of balancing by having some of Milk’s opponents views expressed in video clips, but not of his staunch opponents were interviewed.


Milk at a meeting

The story is amazing. The idea that a man can break into city hall, gun down the mayor and his main opponent, and then claim junk food made him do it (aka the famed Twinkie Defense) just sounds insane. White’s defense got him manslaughter instead of first-degree murder and led to riots by supporters of Milk and Moscone.

The Times of Harvey Milk is a great example of solid documentary filmmaking. If you’ve only seen Milk, check out the real story behind the film. It also goes to show how well made Milk was and how great of a job all the actors in the roles really did. If you ever are making a documentary, you might consider this one a template of how you do it.

Related Links:

Milk (2008)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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