David Weissman is the San Francisco-based director of “We Were Here,” a documentary that details the impact of AIDS in The City in the 1980s through the stories of five people. The movie, which had a good showing at Sundance, will open at the Castro Theatre on Friday.
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
Gosh, hard to say. Probably my dad — a person of great kindness and integrity. When I’m being the best person I can be, I can feel his presence in me.
Where do you find inspiration?
Different places at different times, and depending on what kind of inspiration I’m seeking. Creative inspiration — the thing that gets me started on a project — is a mystery, and often a surprise. I’m inspired by people who contribute to the world in a constructive way. I’m inspired by beauty of all kinds.
Where or to whom do you turn to in tough times?
I’m blessed with a multitude of friends, many of very long duration, and two wonderful sisters.
What one book has had a large impact on you?
A few come to mind ... “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts, “Lord of the Rings,” “Moments of Reprieve” by Primo Levi, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” These are all things I read long ago, and have not revisited, but they spoke deeply to me when I read them, and continue to inform my way of moving in the world.
How and when did you get into filmmaking?
It happened rather unexpectedly. I was waiting tables at Zuni, after having been a legislative aide to Harry Britt at the Board of Supervisors. I thought it might be interesting to take some film classes at City College, and it sort of rolled from there.
How would you describe “We Were Here” and what do you want people to take away from the film?
“We Were Here” is about the coming of what was originally called “gay cancer” to San Francisco in 1981. It uses the stories of five people who lived here before the [AIDS] epidemic to evoke a simultaneously intimate and epic history of those years. Like [my previous film] “The Cockettes,” “We Were Here” is a love letter to San Francisco. I want to preserve and honor what happened here when the epidemic hit — the terrible suffering we endured, and the beauty of how the community responded.
Is there one particular film you’ve made that you’ve been most proud of, that has really struck a chord with people?
“We Were Here” is without a doubt the most important thing I’ve ever done. After “The Cockettes,” I didn’t really want to make another documentary. It’s terribly stressful, it’s not lucrative, and I couldn’t really imagine another subject that could speak to so many themes that were personally important to me. The idea to make “We Were Here” was suggested by a boyfriend who hadn’t experienced those years and had heard so many stories from me of what I’d been through. Making it took me to a much deeper place than anything I’ve ever done, and it was — still is — very painful sometimes. But it’s part of my own personal healing process, and the incredible response to the film from all types of people is making me aware that it’s helping other people begin to heal things within themselves as well.