Van Sant’s Milk Starts Filming in January

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Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant will commence production in January on the biographical drama Milk, to star Academy Award winner Sean Penn as gay-rights icon Harvey Milk. Milk will be produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the Academy Award-winning producers of American Beauty, through The Jinks/Cohen Company. Milk is being co-financed by Groundswell Productions and Focus Features, and distributed worldwide by Focus. The announcement was made today by Focus CEO James Schamus and Groundswell CEO Michael London.

London will also serve in a producing capacity on the film. Milk is being executive-produced by Bruna Papandrea of Groundswell; William Horberg; and Dustin Lance Black (“Big Love”), who wrote the original screenplay.

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was an activist and politician, and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America; in 1977, he was voted to the city supervisors’ board of San Francisco. The following year, both he and the city’s mayor George Moscone were shot to death by another city supervisor, Dan White. Mr. Milk was previously the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary feature The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), directed by Rob Epstein and produced by Richard Schmiechen. Milk will be the first non-documentary feature to explore the man’s life and career.

Schamus said, “Gus Van Sant is the perfect artist to bring to the screen the extraordinary story of Harvey Milk, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to join our partners at Groundswell in helping make this dream project a reality.”

London added, “The Focus team is the best in the business when it comes to provocative, socially relevant movies with world-class talent like Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn. We’re thrilled that they share our passion for telling the story of Harvey Milk.”

Jinks and Cohen commented, “We couldn’t be more proud to be working with Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn in bringing this important and moving story to the screen.”

Focus Features International will handle overseas sales for the movie. David Gerson, Focus vice president of production and development, is supervising Milk for president of production John Lyons.

Bill Groom, whose previous credits include The Pledge (directed by Penn), will be the production designer on Milk. Harris Savides, in his fifth feature collaboration with Van Sant, will be the cinematographer on the film.