‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ among 25 films added to National Film Registry


”The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) profiled the slain gay rights activist and member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. (Courtesy San Francisco Public Library)
December 19, 2012

The 1950 Washington satire “Born Yesterday” and Rob Epstein’s documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” are among 25 films being named Wednesday to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. The registry, created in 1989, designates the moving images that it deems historically, culturally and aesthetically important enough to be preserved by the library, guaranteeing that they will become part of the nation’s permanent visual record.

As in years past, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington — with the help of an advisory board of scholars, preservationists, programmers and film professionals — has created a diverse list of films, which span fiction and nonfiction, established classics, and little-known avant-garde experiments and pieces of Americana that virtually defy description. Perhaps this year’s most eccentric entry, “The Kidnapper’s Foil,” is actually a collection of short films produced by an itinerant filmmaker named Melton Barker, who traveled throughout Texas and the Midwest in the 1930s and subsequent decades, filming local children — whose parents had paid a fee — as they performed his own script, then screened the results at local theaters.

Other unconventional titles include a Kodachrome color demonstration from 1922, an industrial film about the 1939 World’s Fair and 1967’s “They Call It Pro Football,” the first production of the nascent NFL Films.

The inclusion of “The Times of Harvey Milk,” an Oscar-winning 1984 documentary about the political career of the San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978, came as welcome news to board members and outside observers who had perceived a conspicuous absence of films by and about gay Americans on the national registry.

“Thank you, Joe Biden,” said distributor Dennis Doros, of Milestone Film & Video, who has for the past few years advocated for “The Times of Harvey Milk” with the advisory board. “I suspect that the tide of the country has changed, and that the acceptance by the vice president and the president of gay rights might have sent a message to the entire government, not just the Library of Congress.

“I’m happy that one of the great documentaries of all time has been accepted. It further legitimizes [the National Film Registry] as the most important list of films in the country for educators, librarians and the public,” Doros said.

Each of the films named to the registry will be preserved at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, or at collaborating facilities.

Films selected for the 2012 National Film Registry

“3:10 to Yuma” (1957)

“Anatomy of a Murder” (1959)

“The Augustas” (1930s-1950s)

“Born Yesterday” (1950)

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)

“A Christmas Story” (1983)

“The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight” (1897)

“Dirty Harry” (1971)

“Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2” (1980-82)

“The Kidnapper’s Foil” (1930s-1950s)

“Kodachrome Color Motion-Picture Tests” (1922)

“A League of Their Own” (1992)

“The Matrix” (1999)

“The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair” (1939)

“One Survivor Remembers” (1995)

“Parable” (1964)

“Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia” (1990)

“Slacker” (1991)

“Sons of the Desert” (1933)

“The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973)

“They Call It Pro Football” (1967)

“The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984)

“Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971)

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1914)

“The Wishing Ring; An Idyll of Old England” (1914)

Films in the Library of Congress’s collection may be screened for public viewers holding reader registration cards, after making an appointment with the Motion Picture & Television Reading Room. Call 202-707-8572 or e-mail mpref@loc.gov.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.
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