We Were Here Movie Review
Speaking with five people who lived through the arrival of Aids in the late-70s and the devastation of the 80s and early 90s, filmmaker Weissman paints an intimate portrait of what it felt like to live through a time when virtually all of your friends suddenly died around you. And in the early days, it was completely inexplicable. As America's religious right shouted hatred and pushed for violent political intervention (like quarantines), the gay community reached out with creative compassion, crossing barriers within the subculture.
This unfussy doc never hides or exploits the emotions of these five witnesses.
Ed is a counsellor who sat with thousands of men as they died. Eileen is a nurse who defied fear to care for her patients. Daniel is an artist who watched helplessly as two partners died. Guy is a florist who watched the neighbourhood reel with pain. And Paul hitchhiked to San Francisco in to join the "crazy dreamers" before tragedy descended all around him. Those years were like a warzone to them all: "We never knew where the bomb was going to drop next."
Intriguingly, only one of these people talks about their own experience as an Aids patient; the other men seem a little shocked that they survived at all, since everyone they knew grew horribly ill and died. "Survival isn't courageous," one says. Filmed in their homes, the interviews often catch them on the verge of tears. Fortunately, they're also sharp, interesting people who have a hopeful perspective on life, so they undercut the film's maudlin tone with humour, telling observations and a terrific wealth of reminiscences.
Illustrating this is an astonishing range of photographs and home movies that show us both the happy times and the horror of diseases that came along with Aids. The film also touches heavily on the political issues, from community attitudes on promiscuity to the fight for recognition and equality. And of course for research into fighting Aids. Watching this is seriously wrenching, but it also makes sure we never forget what happened in this specific place.
And hopefully keep it from ever happening again.