We Were Here – a community under seige; HIV & AIDS in 1980-90s San Francisco

David Weissman’s We Were Here is a new documentary about the emergence and spread of AIDS in San Francisco.

More than 15,000 people died from the virus by the mid 1990s. What the director captures is not just the pain of the group, but a real destruction of communities. Eventually many in the US and around the globe developed a deep sense of compassion for gays and went back to rethink the “moral question” of that time.

We Were Here has been described as a probing look into the emergence and rapid spread of HIV and AIDS and is a horrifying yet sensitive exploration of a community facing a dreadful experience and a true crisis.

Weissman goes through an entire community and explores many viewpoints that tell the truth, and well as providing a narrative that’s understandable from any audience’s point of view.

Whether or not you are familar with events of the 1980s and 1990s, you will still feel a strong connection with characters in the documentary. We Were Here has some very weighty moments, and the format can grow tiresome. It is made up of interviews with news broadcasts in between.

But it is saved by the fact that it does not fear going close to contradictions. Paul Boneberg, one of the film’s more political five, describes the gay community as such: “If you took a group of young men and told them that they could have sex as much as you want, how much do you think they’d have? They’d have a lot of sex.”  Earlier on in the film one of the profiled people asks that people remember that ”[homosexuals] are not some network of people who just like to have sex.”

The five characters here don’t need to prove anything or make any grand arguments, so their willingness to share moments of great personal strength don’t come off as preachy. As Ed Wolf, a counselor who attested to being “terrified” by anonymous sex but somehow managed to comfort those who could not survive the disease’s grasp, says, “It’s not heroic, you just do it.”

The documentary was released in September and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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