Just like they did eight years ago during the Milk shoot, Hollywood has returned to San Francisco to reenact the famous White Night Riot, when an army of very pissed off gay men threw rocks and bottles at City Hall on May 21, 1979, threw rocks at police, and then lit a few SFPD cruisers on fire. They were reacting to the manslaughter verdict in the Dan White trial for the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, and the chaotic scene was recreated and shot for the 2008 Gus Van Sant film, though most of that footage never made it into the final cut, which Van Sant decided to end on a more somber, less vengeful note. Tonight, it will be done again for the When We Rise version of the riot, and as CivicCenter.org explains, crews will be shutting down streets in the vicinity starting at 7 p.m.
Parts of Polk, Grove, and McAllister Streets will be shut down between 7 and 8 p.m. and pedestrians may be held up as well, while cameras are rolling. Obviously most of the action will be happening around the steps of City Hall on the Polk Street side, after sundown. According to the SF Film Commission, there will be "large billowing smoke effects" and "lighting that will mimic flames in the basement windows of City Hall."
As I discussed before, When We Rise is an eight-part docu-series coming to ABC television either later this year or early next, penned by Milk writer Dustin Lance Black and produced by Van Sant, who's also directing a couple of the episodes. It chronicles key moments in the fight for LGBT civil rights, and thus much of it will center on San Francisco both during the Harvey Milk era and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, as well, presumably, as the first gay marriages taking place here in 2004 and the subsequent fight over Prop 8.
I was previously mistaken in saying that the White Night Riot had already been fully shot consultant Cleve Jones posted pictures from the set in Vancouver, where some of the riot was already shot, but clearly they needed to get some real exteriors at the actual City Hall where it took place.
For a first person account of what happened that night, albeit from a cop, check out this excellent piece on Found SF by former Deputy SFPD Chief Kevin Mullen, who became somewhat of a scholar of crime during his retirement, and who actually grew up in the Castro when it was an Irish neighborhood. "The White Night Riot has evolved into one of the founding legends of modern gay San Francisco sort of a West Coast version of New York’s Stonewall riot," he writes. "If Harvey Milk’s assassination was the Boston Massacre, White Night was Concord Bridge." He even admits, tacitly, that a police raid on a gay bar in the Castro, The Elephant Walk (where Harvey's is now) that took place the night of the riot, in the early morning hours of May 22, 1979, was essentially retaliatory, and it led to the SFPD forever ceasing to harass gay bar patrons as they had for years in what was dubbed Mullen's Retreat.