Essential Film Directors, Gus Van Sant

American director, writer, photographer, and painter Gus Van Sant thrills audiences with his moving and energetic film, Milk.  Released in 2008, Milk, is a portrayal of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official.  The story follows Harvey as he comes out as gay on the East Coast, relocates to San Francisco, and becomes one of the first burning embers to spark the gay rights movement in America.  Harvey Milk begins his career as a community organizer and soon realizes he can do so much more.  Harvey discovers he could really make a difference as an elected official, and with his life partner Scott’s help, he mobilizes the gay voter population to oust the conservative delegation and their anti-gay policies in one of America’s largest cities.


Two-time Academy Award nominee Gus Van Sant resides in Portland, Oregon.  Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Gus Van Sant and his family frequently moved due to his father’s profession as a traveling salesman.  Gus Van Sant eventually landed at the Catlin Gabel School in Oregon, where he developed an interest in visual arts.  Pursuing painting, Van Sant attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was introduced to artistic greats like Andy Warhol and Jonas Merkas.  Van Sant also studied alongside David Byrne.  Desiring the magic of art house film making, Van Sant quickly changed his major to study cinematography.

Gus Van Sant’s career began in advertising and art house theaters.  He directed television commercials in New York, while saving money to fund his creative projects.  Often rejected by major motion picture studios, many of Gus Van Sant’s early ideas eventually landed in art house films.  Following the success of these early works, Gus Van Sant found himself receiving offers from New Line Cinema to work on new scripts for more mainstream cinema.

An openly gay director, Gus Van Sant’s films often explore themes surrounding homosexuality and other similar subcultures in society.

Straddling the fine line between mainstream and art house, Gus Van Sant’s works have garnered various film festival awards and Academy nominations.  One of his earliest successes came with the edgy 1989 film, Drugstore Cowboy, which followed a band of drug addicts who commit robbery to feed their habit.  The film won Van Sant numerous Best Screenplay and Best Director awards and set him up for future success.

However, Gus Vant Sant decided to return to his art house roots with his next film My Own Private Idaho.  Panned by some mainstream critics, the film was actually featured in the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival.

Over the past two decades, Gus Van Sant directed some of his most famous works, including Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Elephant, Last Days, and Milk.

Alexander Ryll
Launched in June 2014, Gay Essential is the world’s largest gay themed film blog promoting new and rare features. I am helped by some amazing writers and we also cover film festivals in the UK and USA. We are 100% independent, without advertising or funding by film distributors. Help to keep Gay Essential independent by purchasing our merchandise GET (Gay Essential Tees)
Alexander Ryll
- 3 months ago
Alexander Ryll
Alexander Ryll