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.
- 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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