“Documentaries often pave the way,” says director Robert Epstein, discussing how his Academy Award-winning 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, served as a blueprint for Gun Van Sant’s Oscar-winning 2008 feature, Milk. Documentaries can also provide a path to the past, reminding us not only how far we’ve come, but how little things have changed. It’s easy to draw parallels between the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone and January’s shootings in Tucson, making the new Criterion edition of the acclaimed doc as relevant as ever.
The two-DVD and Blu-ray set, released today, contains a pristine new transfer of the film plus a trove of bonus features, including new interviews with many of the film’s participants, and a lengthy, never-before-seen dialogue with Milk’s late partner, Scott Smith. Most revelatory, though, is a fascinating panel discussion with the defense attorneys for convicted killer Dan White, who refute the notion that Milk’s assassination was the result of “gay panic” or the widely criticized excuse of too many Twinkies.
Epstein says it’s a dream come true for his film to find a home in the prestigious Criterion library and is certain Milk would have enjoyed the continued attention. “Oh, he would have loved it,” Epstein says. “I used to joke that the presidential ticket would have been Obama-Milk, so he would have been in the White House loving it.”