We Were Here

A simple, powerful act of bearing witness, We Were Here is a sober reminder of the not-too-distant past, when gays were focused not on honeymoon plans but on keeping people alive. David Weissman's oral history of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco also explores the specifics of psychogeography: Vividly recalling the specific street corners, bars, and shops forever linked with their earliest memories of the disease, his five interviewees recount their experiences living in the city at the height of the epidemic in the 1980s and early '90s. Reminiscent of the groundbreaking 1978 doc Word Is Out, Weissman's generational portrait uses archival footage and music cues judiciously. These talking, sometimes weeping, heads share uniformly moving remembrances, full of pain and insight. Eileen, a nurse who tended to AIDS patients, stresses the psychic toll of the era, when "all you were doing was helping people die." Paul, a longtime AIDS activist, elucidates the political battles that both united and divided the gay community during the plague years. Supplementing, but never overshadowing, these first-person narratives is Weissman's well-curated interstitial footage, revealing beautiful, smiling men in elysian shots of the Castro in the '70s. Do some of them appear in the grim archival montages later on, bodies covered in lesions and wasting away as Bay Area headlines announce the arrival of a "gay cancer"? Rooted in individual, highly personal recollections, Weissman's doc is still haunted by these anonymous figures. (NR) MELISSA ANDERSON

Sat., Oct. 15, 5 p.m., 2011

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