Review by Doug Rule
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Saturday, 10/15/2011, 11:00 AM
Feature presentation, $12 at Globe Theatre
DAVID WEISSMAN AND Bill Weber’s We Were Here is billed as the first documentary to reflect on the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco. In truth, this powerful, captivating and carefully crafted film is so much more than that. After all, the fight against AIDS itself, as the documentary notes, actually helped propel the national gay rights movement into the significant, influential force it is today in American politics. The film further distinguishes itself from most documentary films about AIDS to date — and even many feature films. Generally, these films present a top-down focus, quoting experts or celebrities exploring broad themes about the epidemic’s medical, health, political or social ramifications on society at large. By contrast, We Were Here focuses more narrowly on the community itself, at ground level. It offers personal accounts of how the disease dramatically changed the lives of regular citizens. The end result is that We Were Here helps widen our understanding of the epidemic’s full impact.
Daniel Goldstein, an artist, is the de-facto heart and soul of the film. Of all the people featured, he’s still the most rattled by the epidemic’s impact on both his life and the city’s gay community. In fact, Goldstein says that he only decided to share his painful history and memories as a way to pay tribute to all of his friends who died from the disease. Like many people in the ’80s, Goldstein lost a couple partners and many close friends. They often died at roughly the same time, as if on the front lines in a war zone.
We Were Here features four other fascinating San Franciscans discussing how AIDS affected their life and work. Among them is the straight Eileen Glutzer, a one-time club kid who eventually lost all her gay club friends to the disease. Glutzer went on to become a nurse, with a focus solely on assisting AIDS patients. Often, her work was little more than helping them prepare to die, a task not for the faint of heart.
It’s also not a task, or really a devotion, that generally garners the attention it deserves. Weissman and Weber right that oversight and many others in We Were Here, and the story of the fight against AIDS is more complete because of it.