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Review: We Were Here - "Stunning"

Sat 28 May 2011 In: Movies View at Wayback View at NDHA

We Were Here 2011. USA 90mins Dir: David Weissman In many ways the disastrous early days of the HIV epidemic were the New Zealand glbt communities' finest hour. For most of those who lived through the fear, the weekly human loss, the hatred, defiance and community mobilisation that resulted in the coming together of our once isolated communities, the fight for homosexual law reform and the initial victory over HIV it was a defining period of their lives. Not easily forgotten, but shared by an increasingly small group of now ageing survivors. The most devastated community of all was San Francisco where it is estimated that by the early 1980s around 50% of gay men had contracted the then deadly virus before anyone even knew it existed. How San Francisco's gay community, a collection of (mostly) men from all over north America and beyond who flocked there to be free from repression and worse, coped with the slaughter in their midst is graphically and searingly recounted in We Were Here. Just five of the thousands of people who went through it articulate the memories, images, fears, and deep sense of loss shared by their fellow gays and lesbians around the world, including New Zealand. In deeply moving and personal interviews a compassionate lesbian nurse, a camp Castro flower seller, an earnest gay healthcare volunteer and others take us back to when San Francisco was hit first and hardest, having to invent from scratch the personal and community strategies which would be modified and played out all around the world. Mobilising against the virus, the fear, the dying, the bigots, the hatred, the... But somehow they got through and the survivors are stronger for it. Weary. And scarred. But stronger. If you don't understand just how important real glbt communities are to people like us We Were Here might make you think twice. But sadly, not many people will be thinking twice judging by the 60, at most, folk scattered throughout Auckland's Rialto 3 last night. Mostly they were the already-committed and the veterans of New Zealand's battle. Hardly a person under 35, and yet as we head into the second surge of HIV infections amongst men like us we will soon have to pull together again. In fact we should be doing so right now. We Were Here pulls no punches, it capures and captivates. At times it is hard to keep looking at the screen, or to keep hearing the anguished pauses as just five people recount their harrowing stories with dignity and optimism. Then there are the thousands of gay faces staring out of obituaries... like the ghosts of our own dead. If you ever get the chance to see this documentry please, please do so. Prepare to be challenged, dazed even. Then, as the initial impact subsides, quietly filter out the worst and remember the strength, courage and comradeship that we are capable of and should already be mustering as week by week HIV regains its vicious grip on a new generation of New Zealand's gay and bi men. Men just like us. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 28th May 2011    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 28th May 2011 - 1:15pm

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