SAN FRANCISCO -- Susan Hester showed up to the Castro Theatre on Monday evening in a purple T-shirt and a pair of faded black boots, all of which had been around for more than 30 years.

"This is how I dressed at the time," the 56-year-old Santa Rosa resident said as she spread out her arms so people could admire the vintage duds.

In the late 1970s, Hester was a twentysomething Peninsula resident and student at San Francisco State. She remembers San Francisco's Castro district as a neighborhood full of life and hope. Harvey Milk had just been elected supervisor -- making him the first openly gay person voted into public office in the country. Men from all over flocked to San Francisco to participate in the Castro's thriving gay culture.

"It was Oz. We could finally have peace," she said quietly, her chest shrinking in her well-worn T-shirt.

Hester was one of hundreds who had gathered Monday to watch a screening of Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" and participate in a re-creation of a march and rally that will be part of the upcoming feature film "Milk." Scheduled for release sometime this fall, the movie is directed by Gus Van Sant and stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin as Milk's killer, Dan White.

Some came to the Castro Theatre on Monday to soak in Hollywood glitter, but most attended for the same reason as Hester -- they wanted to help commemorate a historical moment they want to see honored.


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"If I can do anything to put any energy into stories like this, or like Martin Luther King's story, I will," said Oakland resident Julia Napier, 34, who signed up for the film screening and march online and showed up dressed in a flame-colored leather jacket, blue jeans and a printed scarf.

Napier was too young to feel the sorrow many San Francisco residents shared when they learned Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot dead by newly resigned Supervisor White on Nov. 27, 1978. She felt it, though, when she saw the 1984 documentary when she was 19 years old.

"The story really got to me," she said. "It still gets to me."

On their way to the theater, the film extras passed by signs that the 1970s have taken over the Castro district, signs that will be there for at least another week or so. A gas station boasted prices of 63 cents per gallon. A faux real estate center was offering Victorian flats for $49,000. The setting evokes a time of both excitement and tragedy for San Francisco. The Moscone and White shootings came just days after Congressman Leo Ryan and four others were shot to death while leaving Jonestown in Guyana, where about 900 men, women and children died in a mass murder-suicide.

By participating in the movie, the volunteer extras knew they were re-creating a profound chapter of modern history.

Entering the theater, the excitement was palpable.

"That's Cleve Jones, the founder of the Names project," one woman whispered to others in line to enter the theater. Eyes peeled, the extras watched Jones enter the venue.

"People really want this story to be told," said Jones, a historical consultant on the film. "Most of the conversation I hear from my contemporaries and from young people who were not born until Harvey had died was this is a compelling and important political story that needs to be told."

For many, the story is bittersweet, Jones added, because so many people are not alive now to share in the film because of the AIDS epidemic.

Jones joined director Van Sant and actors Emile Hirsch and James Franco onstage to thank the audience for giving their time to the filmmaking process, one that has required them to spend hours standing around pretending to be angry and chant slogans like "Gay rights now!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, Anita Bryant has got to go!"

They were re-creating a march led by Milk in response to the June. 7, 1977, vote in Wichita, Kan., that repealed a 7-month-old local gay rights ordinance that barred discrimination in housing and employment.

Milk, who was dubbed "Mayor of the Castro" before being elected to office, served 11 months as supervisor before being killed by White. White later was convicted of manslaughter rather than first-degree murder of the mayor and supervisor. That conviction, and the light sentence it ensured, led to the 1979 White Night Riots.

"The riots are what brought me to San Francisco," said San Francisco resident Mike Wilford, 51. "That power moved me. I am here because I want to feel it again."

Another march will be held Friday. This march will re-create the peaceful candlelight vigil held the night of Milk's murder. Organizers say space still may be available. Check http://www.milkmarch.com to participate.

Reach Laura Casey at lcasey@bayareanewsgroup.com.

MEMORIES OF MILK

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