aGLIFF 2011 (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival)
By Don Simpson | September 8, 2011
Directors: David Weissman, Bill Weber
David Weissman and Bill Weber’s We Were Here documents the coming of what was then called the “Gay Plague” in San Francisco in the early 1980s; yet instead of dwelling on death, Weissman and Weber opt to focus on five people (Guy Clark, a dancer and flowerist; Paul Boneberg, a political activist; Eileen Glutzer, a nurse and researcher of several AIDS drugs; Daniel Goldstein, an HIV-positive artist who lost two lovers to AIDS; Ed Wolf, a counselor to AIDS-infected men) who survived and are willing to document their personal oral histories of those devastating years. They each arrived in San Francisco during the 1970s when Harvey Milk was energizing the gay community; but when Milk was assassinated in 1978, everything began to change. Then came AIDS… Clark, Boneberg, Glutzer, Goldstein and Wolf’s young and healthy gay friends suddenly came down with mysterious symptoms — such as ghastly and disfiguring sores all over their body — and, soon thereafter, died. These five subjects lived through an emotionally harrowing experience on par with surviving the Holocaust or experiencing the horrors of war firsthand. Even to this day, it seems impossible for them to speak about the past without succumbing to tears. (It will also be impossible for any sane viewer to watch We Were Here without crying as well.)
Weaving together the unique perspectives of the five talking head interview subjects with powerful archival images, We Were Here talks about the personal and community issues that came to fruition during these early days of the AIDS epidemic. An intense political and social upheaval was unleashed as well, as the San Francisco community began to demand the support (medical care, social services) that any rational and humane society should offer its citizens. But the gay community found themselves on their own — California and Washington D.C. did not care about their health and safety and the Christian right took the opportunity to demonize gay culture. We Were Here recalls the camaraderie that transformed the gay community, discussing how community members were able to mobilize to demand new research and treatments for the disease. Even AIDS-infected men, who knew they would be dead in a matter of weeks, were motivated to travel to Washington D.C. to protest on behalf of AIDS research. They did not do this for themselves, but for the future well-being of the world.
By focusing on such an unprecedented calamity, We Were Here develops into a universal story about dealing with the sudden illness and death of loved ones, as well as the strength that people find in each other when faced with incredible odds. That generation of San Franciscans experienced something so terribly traumatic, their lives were forever changed…but not damaged beyond repair. The five interview subjects of We Were Here are able to find a bright and optimistic side of it all. Sure, We Were Here is sad, but not because it is depressing; in fact, it is quite hopeful.