Sundance Film: We Were Here

February 1, 2011 : 1:38 am | by Kasey Clark

After the first ten mintues of David Weissman’s We Were Here, I contemplated walking out of the theatre. I felt the urge to disengage, simply because I didn’t know if I could take another telling of the catastrophic effect of AIDS on the gay community. But We Were Here is not content filling the viewer with the overbearing horror and outrage it evokes-the juxtaposed beauty and courage of the Haight-Ashbury community shines triumphantly the entire length of the film.Although I’ve cried in sad movies before, We Were Here incited a sense of intense personal admiration that’s rarely captured in cinema. The passionate response of the audience as a whole speaks to the fact that the title, We Were Here, references not only the stories of those whose lives were directly affected by AIDS. Audience members were drawn in to the emotional turmoil of the epidemic as though we were experiencing it firsthand. When the trademark flowers of San Francisco were being purchased at an alarming rate to commemorate lovers who had passed away, we were there. When people were weary of buying bulk Costco toilet paper due to the fear that they wouldn’t be alive long enough to use it all, we were there.

We Were Here highlights the stories of several community members whose lives were racked by the HIV/AIDS epidemic through interviews recounting the 1980s in San Francisco. Although Director David Weissman personally knew each of the individuals being interviewed, he utilizes a great deal of restraint in his interviews, rather than allowing his own emotions to overpower the stories themselves. Including only the responses of the interviewees, Weissman allows each gripping story to be told on it’s own terms by those who experienced it.

Even before the wake of HIV/AIDS, the gay community of San Francisco was overcoming a plethora of obstacles. Targeted and cast out by the larger community for their deviant and misunderstood sexuality, gays were also isolated from their biological families, because of their families’ inability to condone their lifestyle. Now add a new and terrible epidemic that, with it’s quickening pace of transmission, threatened to rip from these people all those that they called family. As each of the subjects bear themselves honestly and openly on film, I had the feeling that I knew and understood their struggle so intimately.

With their struggles came the selfless sacrifices of each of the characters. Pledging their very identities to the hope that they might save someone from the pain and hardship of HIV/AIDS, gays were no longer sex partners but caretakers. We Were Here is a bold account inspiring deep personal reflection through focusing on a community, though it’s message is universal and identifiable.  It inspires through displaying the supernatural dedication and perseverance that people respond with when their loved ones and their very lives are jeopardized. Emotionally wrenching in it’s tragedy, the subjects are not victims but heroes; their stories are uplifting even in light of the horrific losses they endured. We Were Here is certainly one of the most authentic works concerning the plight of compromised communities, and shows our incredible ability as humans to find meaning in loss.

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