We Were Here

4 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: February 6, 2012
Reviewed for the 2011 Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival
Bittersweet victory for the survivors

With the explosion of interest in mostly unscripted reality television programs, millions of viewers follow their favourites as they must pass all manner of challenges (from international find-the-next-clue, to serving up gourmet meals under the tough-love eye of “Chef”) in order to “stay alive” for the next episode and the possibility of untold glory and/or cash.

Thanks to David Weissman’s and co-director Bill Weber’s courage, insight and passion for their subjects (past and present), the survival stakes were/are much higher since the HIV/AIDS epidemic created hell on earth for “contestants” who were unwittingly brought into the game before it was established that unprotected sex was the prime method of infection in those early years of the “gay cancer” that some thought was a just reward for living a life of wanton perversion.

The film chronicles a quintet (four men, one woman) of equally courageous individuals who candidly recall their involvement with the “plague” as it swirled in and around San Francisco—presumably a relatively safe haven for the queer amongst us who flocked together seeking strength in numbers and a buffet of sexual partners in the free-wheeling late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

With archive footage and personal recollections, the terror, unqualified love and glimmers of hope fill the screen with many reminders of how strong the human spirit can be in the face of adversity (particularly Eileen Glutzer as she unstintingly worked the front lines of the AIDS ward) and cruel when the general population along with its fawning politicians (save and except the unrepentant few such as Harvey Milk) struggle simultaneously with the evil twins of fear and ignorance: there’s a societal cocktail that too often filled the cup of kindness with “just one more” shot of loathing.

Necessarily filled with talking heads for much of the time, cinematographer Marsha Kahm has done a stellar job of zeroing in on the disparate visages whether revelling in the joy of a long-forgotten moment with a former partner or letting tears of “Why not me?” come into unabashed focus.

Viewed just over a day after The Carrier presented a modern—if far removed geographically—take on HIV/AIDS in the 21st century, it seems clear that the protagonists of both films (along with anyone who has let horny temptation trump common sense) ought to see each other’s predicaments and wonder collectively if anything can ever be done to expel this preventable disease from the planet. JWR

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Directors - David Weissman, Bill Weber
Producer - David Weissman
Music - Holcombe Waller
Cinematography - Marsha Kahm
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