We Were Here Review | Film | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

We Were Here Review 

Five San Franciscans remember the AIDS crisis

Thursday, Sep 15 2011
Comments

A simple, powerful act of bearing witness, We Were Here is a sober reminder of the not-too-distant past, when gays were focused not on honeymoon plans but on keeping people alive. David Weissman's oral history of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco also explores the specifics of psychogeography: Vividly recalling the specific street corners, bars and shops forever linked with their earliest memories of the disease, his five interviewees recount their experiences living in the city at the height of the epidemic in the 1980s and early '90s.

Weissman, whose previous doc, The Cockettes (2002), co-directed with Bill Weber, was another S.F. chronicle, records his subjects with little embellishment. Four gay men — Guy, Daniel, Ed and Paul — and a woman, Eileen, whose sexuality is never specified, are introduced only once by a title card (closing credits reveal their surnames). Reminiscent of the groundbreaking 1978 doc Word Is Out, one of the most significant records of gay life just before AIDS, Weissman's generational portrait (all five interviewees appear to be in their mid- to late 50s) uses archival footage and music cues judiciously. These talking, sometimes weeping, heads share uniformly moving (and never maudlin) remembrances, full of pain and insight.

Their words are frequently unsparing. Eileen, a nurse who tended to AIDS patients, stresses the psychic toll of the era, when "all you were doing was helping people die." Daniel, an artist diagnosed early with HIV, who lost two partners to the disease, recalls his caregiver's fatigue: "I somehow knew my limits and couldn't take one more sick friend on."

click to enlarge We Were Here
  • We Were Here

Location Info

Related Stories

  • Teenage Bloodbath in Northern California While L.A. Kids Lay Low: Study 3

    How bizarre to see the Violence Policy Center think tank's report revealing a bloodbath of murdered young people in California, led by such picturesque and/or laid-back NorCal places as gorgeous Monterey County, pricey San Francisco County, and dusty, farming-oriented San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. No surprise to see Alameda County...
  • Pot Drought? 3

    Harvest season is upon us. We're not talking about tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. We're talking about that most green of crops, marijuana. Late summer marks the beginning of bud harvesting in the Emerald Triangle growing region of Northern California, perhaps the most productive cannabis region in the United States. See...
  • Get Smart

    California is the largest state in the union and, arguably, the wealthiest. Golden State residents might also be the smartest people across the land, too. Cecilia A. Conrad, vice president of the MacArthur Fellows Fellows Program, examined its famed "genius grant" winners from the awards' first year, in 1981, to...
  • Hollywood's Tax Win 3

    Jerry Brown, California's skin-flint governor, acceded Wednesday to an increase in the film tax credit to $330 million. Brown is a well-known skeptic of Hollywood subsidies, but the combined forces of organized labor, multinational entertainment conglomerates, and B-list celebrities proved too powerful to resist. The industry didn't get the $400...
  • Full-On Legalization

    Legal marijuana isn't hard to get in L.A. Just go to a doctor who advertises in certain weekly publications (ahem), tell her you have back pain, get a piece of paper, show it to the dispensary nearby, and buy some bud. But pro-marijuana activists in California have been envious of...

Others, particularly Paul, a longtime AIDS activist who was appointed executive director of San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society in 2007, clearly elucidate the political battles that both united and divided the gay community during the plague years. As in many other cities, Northern California queers banded together to fight "extraordinary civil rights abuses," such as the initiatives that sought to quarantine those with HIV/AIDS, but split over whether the S.F. health director's mandate to close the bathhouses in 1984 was "a dangerous precedent," an overreach of the state to curtail what, for many, was a pillar of gay lib — the right to public sex.

Supplementing but never overshadowing these first-person narratives is Weissman's well-curated interstitial footage. As his subjects recall the promise of freedom, sexual and otherwise, that led them to San Francisco in the '70s, Weissman includes a few elysian shots of the Castro some time during the Carter administration: beautifully sculpted, impressively mustached men, smiling and strutting in cowboy boots and cutoffs. Do some of them appear in the grim, archival montages later on, bodies covered in lesions and wasting away, as Bay Area headlines announce the arrival of a "gay cancer"? Rooted in individual, highly personal recollections, Weissman's doc is still haunted by these anonymous figures. As Daniel wonders, "What would the world be like if they were here?"

WE WERE HERE | Directed by DAVID WEISSMAN | Co-directed by BILL WEBER | Red Flag Releasing | ArcLight Hollywood, Playhouse

Reach the writer at melissaelaineanderson@gmail.com

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Showing

  1. Tue 30
  2. Wed 1
  3. Thu 2
  4. Fri 3
  5. Sat 4
  6. Sun 5
  7. Mon 6

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending