Anatomy of an Epidemic

David Weissman steps into the delicate breach where journalism gives way to history. In the profoundly personal We Were Here he encapsulates the shattering years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco through the recollections of five ordinary yet central figures. They include an artist, a volunteer caregiver, an activist, a florist, and a nurse (the last of which being the only woman and the only heterosexual). They movingly confide their shell-shocked stories, from the first weeks of rumor, confusion, and panic in the early 1980s through the waves of diagnosis and wasting death that seemed to portend the fate of every gay man. There’s scarcely a drop of self-pity, though; the documentary’s central theme is the gay community’s transmutation of loss and grief into compassion and action — with a splash of anger. Weissman (The Cockettes) displays a finely judged restraint — eschewing narration and using still photos to the near-exclusion of archival footage — that heightens the piece’s power while steering well clear of earnest asceticism. Part survivor’s tale and part eulogy, We Were Here is ultimately, and unexpectedly, inspiring. The disarmingly candid interviewees gradually emerge as self-effacing heroes, inviting us to ponder what we would do (or did) when confronted with a similarly dark challenge.
Feb. 25-March 3, 2011

 
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