Behind the Lens


Leo Herrera Imagines an Alternate World Without AIDS

Leo Herrera's film honors more than 18,500 'Fathers'—notable artists and activists—whose lives were claimed by the AIDS epidemic in the '80s and '90s.

AIRED: February 27, 2018 | 0:06:01

- There's so many ghosts in the city.

AIDS was so present.

To realize that so many men were gone.

There was so much sadness in our community.

If we weren't worried about dying all

through the 80s and the 90s,

what would we be doing?

That's where 'Fathers' came from.

I want those men that survived to take a look

at the project and see all the love

that went into it.

I have one gay brother and it's just me and him

and my mom and my dad.

My mom and my dad left their family

in Ascensión when we were really young

and we all moved to Phoenix, Arizona.

My dad was a day laborer and my mom was a babysitter

and cleaned houses.

One of my earliest memories is my dad coming home

and weeping because he had been picked up

as a day laborer for two nights in a row

and they didn't pay him.

It was one of my first memories

of understanding that we weren't treated fairly

in Arizona being undocumented for so long.

There wasn't a lot of stuff to do in Phoenix.

It was a really tough place to be gay in.

There was two gay bookstores that I loved going to.

Not like porn book stores - but like regular bookstores.

I started reading gay biographies,

and then I started to kind of become obsessed

with the 1970s and the gay liberation movement.

Once we moved to San Francisco,

then that kind of passion just kind of exploded.

We moved to the Mission.

There was so many brown people here.

We would come home sometimes from these nights out

with all of these drag queens and all these people

and we just were like, "I can't believe we get

"to live this life here."

Because we knew how much...

We knew how much sacrifices our families had made

to come all the way here so me and my brother

were gonna enjoy the shit out of it

and work really hard.

That's where all the film stuff happened.

We would throw these parties and I would make these films.

Then getting our friends to be in them.

My mom was always so worried about our safety

that when they would come here,

they would see how happy we were.

She came to my first drag show.

You know, she brought me jewelry

for my first drag show.

It was trying to figure out a way

to kind of honor the past.

I started taking men that had affected me

and I aged them.

Somehow through that it just became this therapeutic thing

for me where I would be alone with these men

and just thinking about what they would say to me.

Then you're talking to ghosts after awhile,

and you're just like wow.

It's an immeasurable loss, but also seeing

what all these men made prompted me

to just explore it head on and see like,

okay well they're not here,

but maybe you could put yourself in their shoes

for a little bit and just imagine

what the world would look like for you.

Then I think if we had had politicians that were out

through the 80s, we might be able to have gay senators

and we could have a gay president, and all this stuff.

It's like why not?

I'm gonna imagine a gay president.

How do I shoot that with no money?

Then the idea became let me shoot real-life moments

of queer utopia and then integrate those.

Well, it looks like San Francisco in Pride,

and it looks like Provincetown in the summer,

and it looks like Fire Island.

That's when I realized, oh it's right under my nose

this whole time.

We're very good at creating queer utopias.

Oh, this is one of my favorite Leather Dads ever.

He was a Republican politician, which is strangely enough

'cause I needed one for Fathers.

What I didn't know when we came to visit

and we found it by coincidence is he has a hidden picture

in the back of there.

My brother found that picture.

We were back here and nobody had seen it.

In Fathers he becomes a sex czar,

like the gay president appoints him as someone

to kind of take care of the sexual health of the country.

At the end of the film I'll have this was filmed here,

this was filmed here, this was filmed here.

Like this is all real stuff.

These aren't actors, these are people.

That's what 'Fathers' is.

It's kind of like a fear counter-er antidote.

I don't want people to think about AIDS when they watch it,

but I want them to understand

that the world that they live in was shaped by it

and that we're still okay.

We're gonna be good.

We've been through a lot of things

and everybody looses something when they come out,

but you get to gain this incredible community.

Being able to document it has been just...

It's just beautiful.

I love it so much.

It's the only thing that makes me get up.

It's really cool.

I love it so -

I love it.


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