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Film review: We Were Here


This is an immensely powerful, compassionate and inspiring documentary centred around five people’s recollections of the AIDS epidemic that emerged in San Francisco in the early 1980s. With well-placed photographs and news clips, we get a well-rounded, unselfconscious and frank account of caring, solidarity, political campaigning and victories, medical trials, a transformation in American social attitudes, and, although 16,000 people died, successful treatment and survival.

There are many harrowing moments. Photographs of Kaposi’s sarcoma appear in a chemist’s window before anyone knows what it is. A nurse talks about removing eyes for research into viral-caused blindness. But she also talks about the immense contribution from lesbian women in a society without universal healthcare.

It took solidarity, courage and political campaigning to turn things around. Very, very movingly, a florist, an ex-professional dancer, describes a man declining and ageing physically, and, expecting soon to hear the worst, later sees him appear walking without a stick and then riding a bike.

This is a marvellous doc that can change attitudes and ought to be shown in schools. Unmissable.

New Internationalist issue 448 magazine cover This article is from the December 2011 issue of New Internationalist.
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