We Were Here

· Tuesday February 21, 2012

In the '60s and '70s, San Francisco was a city caught up in (if not at the actual epicenter of) the free love movement. We Were Here chronicles the dramatic effect AIDS had on that metropolis, transforming it from a free-spirited Gay Wild West into something more sinister. The images recounted herein sound like something out of a sci-fi horror film: strange sores and lesions covering the bodies of previously virile young men, untreatable and unexplainable; a room full of doctors sobbing; going to your local coffee shop to learn the barista who was there last week has mysteriously vanished.

Using interviews with just five long-time residents and some archival footage, David Weissman crafts a dynamic narrative. This is a city where at one time 50 per cent of the gay men were HIV positive, and more than 15,000 died over the course of 15 years - so you know it's going to be full-on. But that shouldn't scare you off, because it is also packed with humanity and hope.

“None of my friends are around from the beginning,” says Daniel. “I miss a lot of them a lot”. All the interviewees are fantastic, but east coast transplant Daniel Goldstein really shines - not just for the number and variety of personal tragedies he suffered, but also for his refusal to surrender to disinterest or depression, and for refusing to accept praise for this (“It's not heroic, you just do it. You live through it and it's horrible, but you do live through it”).

Growing up in a post-pandemic era, most of us knew how to have safe sex before we had any sex whatsoever. What a previous generation went through is unimaginable, and the way San Francisco's gay and straight communities responded is inspiring. I'm glad someone made this movie.