Filmmaker Leo Herrera Imagines an Alternate World Without AIDS

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Editor's Note: Behind the Lens is a digital video series featuring bold California indie filmmakers pushing the boundaries of their craft. Each episode captures the personal experiences that inform a filmmaker's work and the risks they take to bring stories to the screen.

LGBT history is full of brilliance and beauty. But it's also marked by tragedy, the darkest being the AIDS epidemic, which claimed 18,500 San Franciscans in the last quarter of the 20th century. What if AIDS had never happened? What if our queer heroes had lived? Who would we be?

Leo Herrera, a Mexican-American activist and filmmaker, in collaboration with other queer artists and the GLBT Historical Museum, imagines that parallel universe with The Fathers Project, a "sci-fi documentary" that he likens to a mix of Cruising, Black Mirror, and Beyoncé's Lemonade. (If that description doesn't get your pulse racing, see a doctor.)

Herrera's interest in LGBT history began at a young age. After his family left Ascensión, Mexico for Phoenix, Arizona, he quickly found that his new home wasn't an easy place to be a gay immigrant. Herrera found solace in gay bookstores, where he tore through queer biographies and became enamored with the 1970s Gay Liberation movement. Eventually he and his gay brother moved to San Francisco's Mission district, where they found their own tribe of brown people, queers, drag queens, and others.


"We were just like, 'I can't believe we get to live this life!'" Herrera says. "We knew how much sacrifice our family made to come over here, so me and my brother were going to enjoy the shit out of it and work really hard." It wasn't long before Herrera and his brother began filming within their new community.

Herrera's latest piece quilts together glimpses of a queer utopia populated by real people at Pride in San Francisco, as well as Provincetown and Fire Island. Drawing on the queer biographies he discovered shortly after coming to the U.S., Herrera also re-creates an alternate world where the work of notable artists and activists hadn't been stopped short by AIDS.

Overall, Herrera hopes that the final product serves as an antidote to fear.

"The world we live in was shaped by [AIDS], but we’re still okay," he says. "We're going to be good." —Emmanuel Hapsis

Follow the Fathers Project here.