“We Were Here”: Cinema as witness and memory

David Weissman and Bill Weber’s documentary about the San Francisco response to the AIDS crisis We Were Here just ended a week long run at the Castro Theater.
I caught the last show which began with a preview for the restored re-release of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Ironically, I first met the filmmaker David Weissman when he brought his student film version of the Odessa Steps sequence into W.A.Palmer laboratory for printing in the late 1970s.
This film makes witness of those grim years we lived through in San Francisco after the Milk-Moscone assassinations and the tragedy of People’s Temple and our fair town seemed to have been forsaken. The film celebrates how a compassionate city and a crisis-rallied LGBT community invented a model for others to emulate in the battle against AIDS.
The film also acts as memory for some of those who are gone. I recognize some of those faces. Taylor Phelps was the founder of One Pass Video where many of us worked and where I first met the co-director Bill Weber. Also, Doug Haynes’s face appears. I met Doug, too, as a customer at W.A.Palmer Films. Doug was a brilliant and gentle animator and is one of those who connect on the One Degree of Separation Chart of John Korty Films where Doug was an animator on Twice Upon A Time.
The footage of the S.F.General AIDS ward recalls to my mind visiting my friend John Quinn, W.A.Palmer colleague and City College film student. He was also a fabulous cake decorator.
And I am reminded of the late Michael Cassidy, Palmer Film employee and science fiction filmmaker who created The Giant Brine Shrimp of Salt Lake, sort of a Cecil B. DeMille Mormon apocalypse wrapped in a Ray Harryhausen ironic spectacle. Mike did a mean Orson Welles impersonation, too. Mike’s film footage is part of the documentary content of The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.
Other Palmer film clients we lost to the AIDS crisis: C.Larry Roberts, Curt McDowell, Warren Sonbert, and Arthur Bresson.
They were here and they are here as long as we are here to remember.

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