A documentary by David Weissman and Bill Weber. Unrated. Opens Friday, November 11, at the Vancity Theatre
Codirectors Bill Weber and David Weissman are best known for The Cockettes, which documented an ultracamp theatre company whose rise coincided with that of San Francisco's Castro District as a queer mecca. In their haunting follow-up, We Were Here, things really start with the end of that hedonistic period, in 1978, with the assassination of Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone. (San Francisco is my hometown, and I still can't type these words without getting a knot in my stomach.) Soon after that, men began showing up at health clinics with strange lesions, and many simply dropped dead within days or weeks.
It is increasingly difficult to remember a time when people knew nothing about what was initially called the “gay cancer”. Of course, revisiting the onset of AIDS also recalls U.S. president Ronald Reagan's criminally slow response to the crisis and its craven exploitation by scumbags like Jerry Falwell. This gentle requiem, however, focuses on the reactions of concerned community folks, letting five survivors of the era do most of the talking.
The witnesses are perfectly chosen, not just for having been at the heart of this holocaust—no exaggeration, given the Auschwitz-like photographs included and an epidemic that claimed more than 15,000 lives in the Bay Area alone. These five are remarkable for their ability to articulate the experience with candour and emotion but zero self-pity. Identified on-screen only by their first names, Ed Wolf and Eileen Glutzer both became dedicated health-care workers in response to events, while Paul Boneberg became a political organizer. Daniel Goldstein, the only one here to speak of getting infected, lost two partners and most of his friends within a decade. And Guy Clark, an African-American dancer-turned-florist, speaks with humour and compassion.
The film's most hopeful note comes when the participants talk of meeting younger activists for whom AIDS is just one much-less-pressing issue of the day.
Watch the trailer for We Were Here.