Today: April 17, 2024

We Were Here

We Were Here is a telling and honest account of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that plagued the gay community in San Francisco during the late 1970s and 1980s.

We Were Here is a
telling and honest account of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that plagued the gay
community in San Francisco during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Absolutely worthy
of its short-listing for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, We
Were Here is as informative as it is emotional.

Described as a “bomb”, the effects of the HIV/AIDS virus are
suddenly and violently realised amongst this vibrant and tight knit community.
Filmmaker David Weissman immediately
pieces together the culture of the San Francisco gay community that emerged in
the 1970s and the individuals who found themselves drawn to the new freedoms
that it offered. Quickly the film establishes that these few who have chosen to
be a part of Weissman’s documentary are involved as part of preserving the
memory of those they lost in the epidemic. And despite the initial euphoria of
those giving their accounts of what San Francisco meant to them at that time,
the ghosts of friends, lovers, brothers hang over the film with a profound
sense of sadness.

In fact the term “epidemic” does something to dehumanise
those who suffered from the illness and rather categorises sufferers as
specimens of disease that are so often cast aside from public view. One of the
film’s many strengths is the willingness to show the horrors of HIV/AIDS
sufferers through archive footage and place the viewer in full view of what
actually happened. This particular crisis still resonates to this day as a
consequence of how uncontrollable the illness was and how calamitous the
medical treatment became to the unprecedented spread of HIV/AIDS.

The connections Weissman makes between the youthful
liberation of gay men who found San Francisco as a haven for their new found or
previously repressed sexuality, and the dramatic tragedy that befell them in
the coming years is as evocative emotionally as the survivor tales of any great
War documentary. And in this sense We Were Here is thematically identical to
war films and documentaries. Themes of comradeship, brotherhood and community
are disturbed and destroyed irreparably in some way or another. The “survivors”
who live to tell the tale speak with the pain of still open wounds, but with
their suffering comes a battle to save their ravaged society.

Like so many great documentaries We Were Here speaks both
about the truth of a time in history, but also speaks of the transcendent
emotions of compassion and community. Though almost unbearably tragic, We Were
Here is also enormously affirming thanks to the spirit of this unique
neighbourhood in San Francisco.

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