When San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978 by a fellow city supervisor at city hall, the news sent shockwaves through California and its LGBT communities.
While Milk has since been referred to as a martyr for the gay community and his life’s work is celebrated each year, the ramifications of Milk’s assassination are not as well-known to younger generations that didn’t experience the fall-out firsthand.
That is one reason why 15-year-old Fairfax High School student Max Geschwind this spring created a documentary, “The Milk Effect”, that was premiered at the city of West Hollywood’s Harvey Milk celebration on May 22. He is now looking to prepare the documentary for Oscar consideration.
“I don’t think the people my age know much about him,” Geschwind said, admitting that he, too, didn’t know much when he started making the documentary. “I thought it was important to put together a film to show … them how much of a political icon this person was. It was educational for me, and I hope it will be educational for [other] people.”
He began the documentary in April, as part of the city of West Hollywood’s preparations for Harvey Milk Day. As an intern for the city, Geschwind was involved in planning the city’s celebration. He had six weeks to complete it, and was challenged with lining up interviews with all four candidates for the State Assembly’s 50th District and the current West Hollywood City Council members.
“I really had to do it fast,” Geschwind said.
He also dug up archived clips of Milk, enlisted the help of some fellow Fairfax students to read portions of Milk’s “Hope Speech” and interviewed journalist Juana Samayoa, who interviewed Milk in the 1970s regarding the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned LGBT members from working in the state’s public schools.
“It turned out great,” Geschwind said. “I think it was very well received.”
Since then, the 15 year old has been submitting the film to festivals and working to raise the $1,500 necessary to have it shown in a theatre for a week, which is one of the prerequisites for Oscar consideration. Geschwind is looking to have it shown at Laemmle Theatres.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he added.
Geschwind was born in western Massachusetts, and moved to the Los Angeles area with his parents, Jackie and Charles, and sisters, Alex and Chloe, three years ago. He said he’s always had a love for movies and politics.
“This is just combining my two loves together,” Geschwind said, adding that he has interned for West Hollywood since last summer.
City Councilman John Heilman, who was interviewed for “The Milk Effect”, said Geschwind and his fellow Fairfax High classmates were very professional in their work, and their excitement for the project showed. He said the 2008 movie “Milk”, starring Sean Penn, likely helped refine the documentary.
“I think that made them more aware than they otherwise would have been,” Heilman said. “They were looking at him in all different aspects — as a leader, as a public servant and as a politician.”
He said it is reassuring to see young people interested in Milk’s legacy. Heilman said younger people seem to be less likely to stereotype members of the LGBT community.
“I think they have a much greater sense of acceptance,” he said, offering Geschwind high praise. “Max is a great young man, and he really blossomed doing this project.”
Now, Geschwind would like to see his documentary blossom. He said he would love to be up for an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.
“That’s the light at the end of the tunnel for me,” the Fairfax student said.
He is seeking the public’s help to get the documentary shown in theatres. Donations can be made to www.indiegogo.com/themilkeffect.
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