BERLIN (AP) -- Director Gus Van Sant says Sean Penn's experience of political activism helped make him a good choice to play Harvey Milk, the politician and gay rights activist, in the Oscar-nominated "Milk."

Van Sant presented the movie Tuesday at the Berlin film festival, where it is showing out of competition.

When the movie's makers considered Penn for the lead role, "there were many political speeches that you could hear him give," Van Sant said at a news conference. They "thought that he could do that part of the movie, the political speaking part," he added.

"His politics, not necessarily the type of politics, but (the fact) that he was politically motivated and active, was out there expressing himself" made Penn a good choice, Van Sant said.

Penn was a prominent opponent of the Iraq war and called for former President George W. Bush to be impeached.

"Milk" has eight Oscar nominations, including for best movie. Penn and Van Sant are nominated for best actor and best director respectively.