Getting its Southwest premiere at this year’s Q Cinema film fest, We Were Here documents the recent history gay San Francisco and the impact of “the gay plague” HIV/AIDS had on the community. David Weissman compiled a group of men and women recounting their stories of SF in the ’70s. It’s hard to believe this is the first documentary that takes such a look at this chapter of both the city and the LGBT community.
In a way, the film could be a sequel to his 2001 doc The Cockettes, which focused on the hippie gay culture burgeoning in 1960s San Fran. Now we’re seeing how the ’70s played out and the tragic fate that awaits. Without a lot of fanfare, Weissman points the camera at five old-school SF denizens and lets them tell their stories in timeline fashion. The interviews are spliced in with archival footage and photos of the survivors and their friends along with fascinating, rich images of gay history, as well as some of the darker moments. Public figures at the time railing against the community and AIDS still rile up anger.
Weissman handles each component of the interviews and the footage with the gentleness of laying out the fine china for the perfect place setting. The stories are tragic enough that Weissman lets them unfurl rather than piecing together an unnecessary, sensationalistic dramatic arc. If anything, though, the film actually echoes another documentary. Almost the same timeline structure can be seen in the compelling KERA documentary Finding Our Voice: The Dallas Gay & Lesbian Community.
Regardless, these are stories that need to be told and passed on. We Were Here may be a hard watch for those who were around at that time. It will likely bring up tough memories, but that’s not the overall message here. The strength and humor that lie within each of these survivors is also a testament to the resilience of the gay community, which is tested even to this day. Weissman didn’t create just a documentary in Here, he instead fashioned an heirloom that belongs in the entirety of LGBT history.
90 min. 3.5 stars.
Rose Marine Theater, 1140 N. Main St. June 5 at noon. $10. QCinema.org.