We Were Here examines the origins of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Beautiful and deeply moving, David Weissman's film tells an important story - a story that should not be forgotten. There are no bells and whistles here - no dramatic reconstructions, no twists and turns. Just a group of five people explaining what it was like to experience the early years of AIDS.
In an interview with PBS News, Weissman explained why he decided to make his film. “It became clear to me that the people who had lived through the epidemic in those years had stopped talking about it and that people who didn’t live through that time really knew very little about the origins of the AIDS epidemic and what our community went through in the early years," he said.
“So it seemed like - with the passage of time since the medications started working and the death rate started to go down - it was a good time to look back at that era and try to make sense of what actually happened, what we actually went through as a community.”
I am always in tears within the first few minutes of watching We Were Here. The passage of time has not made the experiences of these five people any less devastating for them to recount or for us to hear. The depth of the human tragedy is hard to comprehend - even though it happened in such recent history. Within a 15 year period, 20,000 people died of Aids in San Francisco alone.
However, despite being an emotional watch, We Were Here is also remarkably life affirming and uplifting. People rallied around those who were suffering - despite not knowing how the disease spread. Many volunteered to work in the hospitals and out in the community - taking care of men who had no one else.
We Were Here’s only female contributor tells how, as a nurse, she took care of Aids patients and also conducted heartbreaking research in the desperate search for a cure. Meanwhile, people came together and marched in order to protect gay civil rights. Many protesters knew that they would soon die from the disease - but they marched anyway.
At the beginning of the film, artist Daniel Goldstein says: “none of my friends are around from the beginning. So, I want to tell their story as much as I want to tell my story”. He more than achieves his aim. We Were Here is a stunning record of an unforgivably tragic time.