An educational attempt in discussing the people who died from the start of the epidemic gets muddled with stories of people who survived
By Anthony King | GSD Editor
As problematic as it is to discuss the memory of the men who succumbed to HIV and AIDS in San Francisco in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it is even more so to critique a documentary about the subject.
“We Were Here” is a documentary stuck between trying to explain historically what happened in the city and trying to show the emotions of a select group who survived. Therein lies the problem, for the viewer is inundated with conflicting ideas of the true purpose of the film.
It is not as if the people interviewed for the film have dispassionate feelings, however, the five individuals highlighted—a political activist, a nurse, a volunteer, a Castro Street businessman and an artist— cannot, actually, tell the story of those who died. They can only tell their own stories.
If director David Weissman removed the interviews of the survivors, the documentary would still be historically significant. However, the film gets muddled with an over-emphasis on the stories of the people who survived. It could have been two different films.
The most unsettling aspect was listening to two participants in particular discuss why they survived while, at the same time, listening to them mourn the loss of those around them. Certainly their pain and loss was real, but the result is riddled with guilt, both for the speakers as well as the viewers.
Today, the historical information is important and pertinent. It is important because the LGBT community is now moving into another avenue of educating our greater community through progressive legislation like the FAIR Education Act and pertinent because HIV continues to change the LGBT community.
“We Were Here” is most definitely a must-see documentary. Not because the film is neither groundbreaking nor extremely insightful, but because a critical viewer will take the two sets of stories presented—those who died and those who survived—and ask, “What was it really like and what can I learn from this now?”
San Francisco as a city—a living, breathing and mourning city—was clear and excellently documented. There is no doubt it was an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic and gay culture. The photographs Weissman morphed into the film were beautiful, the true potent reminder of the people who lived and died.
The strongest point to take away from the film is there were many people who were touched. While the five presented were trying to speak for the many, they could not do this affectively, nor should Weissman have had them attempt such a problematic task.
“We Were Here” is directed and produced by David Weissman and edited by Bill Weber. The documentary opens on Friday, Oct. 21 at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15 located in downtown San Diego at 701 5th Ave. For ticketing, show times and more information visit readingcinemasus.com/gaslamp.htm.