Plazm Magazine: Documenting Creative Culture Since 1991
Plazm is a magazine of design, art, and culture with worldwide distribution. Founded by artists as a creative resource, the magazine is now published by the nonprofit New Oregon Arts & Letters. Order Plazm #30 now.
David in San Francisco in 1977.
Hope in Heartbreak: An Interview with David WeissmanBy Sarah Gottesdiener
David Weissman is a filmmaker that splits his time between San Francisco and Portland. His 2002 film, The Cockettes, a documentary created with Bill Weber about a trailblazing performance group of hippie drag queens active in the late 1960's to the early 70's in San Francisco, has played all over the world to much acclaim. (And won "Best Documentary of the Year" from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. ) Weissman is currently in the process of working on another documentary called "Heartbreak and Heroism: Stories from the Plague Years in San Francisco".
Along with Russ Gage, he also curates and organizes the Portland Queer Documentary film festival. It is the only festival in the United States that is devoted to showing only Queer Documentaries. This year, it takes place May 28 through 31 at the Clinton Street Theater in SE Portland. More information can be found here. Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with David and talk to him about his various projects.
What is the origin of your inspiration for the current project you are working on now?
I'm making a documentary about San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic. Basically it was a completely extraordinary, singular event that lasted in its intense period for about fifteen to twenty years, and it has never really been documented, so I want to try to capture a deep and reflective look back at what that experience was about, specifically within San Francisco, for San Franciscans. My idea about how it's going to be structured is that it is going to be primarily interviews with people who lived in San Francisco since before the epidemic started, because I want it to be people who already had a relationship with the city, who had some sense of why they came to San Francisco and the magic of the city, and then how that vision of what San Francisco was supposed to be was transformed and altered by the coming of the epidemic.
How are you finding your subjects?
I'm doing it by an organic process. I'm not necessarily focused on the substance of individual people's history, because anyone who lived there had valuable stories to tell. I'm really looking for people who are really thoughtful, and who are really are going to be able and willing to sort of think deeply and go into a deep emotional reflection over what that experience was.
When you are starting projects like this, do you find that you come across tension between sort of what you want to invoke as opposed to what ends up coming out?
I don't know yet, because I'm in the process. But I think one of the things that feels really great about this process for me is that I really know what I want the movie to do, how that exactly is going to play out I don't know, but I feel very clear about my intentions around what I want the film to be, and I am also fairly relaxed about the process. I trust myself, and I also trust my filmmaking partner, who is the editor of this project, Bill Weber. We both think very similarly.
What is your intent behind the film?
It's big! It's an onion with multiple layers, and the core of it, and it's similar to the way I described my intentions of making The Cockettes, is I want to illuminate a really extraordinary historical experience for people who don't know much about it. I want to capture a sense of something amazing and awful, and miraculous, and terrifying, that happened, and I also want to honor the experiences of the people who lived through it, and give voice to the richness and complexity of that experience. So those are the two sort of primary objectives. And beyond that there's a lot: I want to metaphorically address so many things beyond the specifics of the epidemic. The subject matter is sort of perfect for that. How we deal with life and death, how we deal with grief, how we deal with fear. How much we're capable of rising to the occasion when the unexpected crisis appears, the importance of being emotionally aware, and emotionally conncected, and how we process hurts and loss, and how we can find beauty in tragedy. There's a lot of themes in it, that I think don't necessarily need to be addressed overtly, but the subject matter will allow those themes to be implicitly addressed.