There is a heart-wrenching moment in “We Were Here,” David Weissman’s documentary about the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, which stands out from the rest of the film. Ed Wolf, an activist and one of the five people extensively interviewed by Weissman, remembers a conversation he had with the father of a hospitalized and infected man.
The father said to him: “You know, it’s harder for me to find out my son is a fag than that he’s going to die soon.”
What can you say to that? Weissman, who is gay, lived in San Francisco and was witness to the crisis. Some of his prior work reflects that experience, including a short film, “Song From An Angel,” which featured local performer Rodney Price doing a song and tap dance about his own death just two weeks before he died of AIDS.
What is surprising is how calmly, almost clinically, Weissman’s interviewees recall the era — anyone anticipating a documentary version of Larry Kramer’s play, “The Normal Heart,” will be surprised, if not disappointed. It’s not that Weissman’s subjects are passionless — there are tears when dead lovers and friends are discussed — but there is surprisingly little anger. Weissman talked to The Arty Semite about what prompted his work on this film, coming out to his father, and his anger at the Reagan administration. “We Were Here” airs June 14 as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS.
Curt Schleier: Your Jewish background influenced your decision to make this film. How?