Filmmaker Aaron Bear hopes to give an oft-overlooked LGBTQ rights advocate his due with a stirring new documentary.
“Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story,” which will premiere virtually Wednesday as part of the 2021 Provincetown Film Festival, examines the life of computer programmer Ric Weiland. In the mid-1970s, the Washington state native became one of the founding employees of Microsoft Corp., and eventually became a lead programmer for the company.
Catch the trailer for “Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story” above.
Along with Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Weiland amassed a sizable fortune as Microsoft became a global brand. “Yes I Am,” however, focuses primarily on the techie’s passion for philanthropy. During his lifetime, Weiland ― who was gay and HIV-positive ― donated more than $20 million to 60 nonprofits, many of which were LGBTQ advocacy groups that drove efforts for marriage equality, AIDS research and nondiscrimination policies. He died by suicide in 2006 at the age of 53. Since his death, an additional $170 million from his estate has been bequeathed to charity.
Bear, who is based in Seattle, was approached to direct “Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story” in 2016. Though the filmmaker wasn’t deeply familiar with Weiland’s career at first, he told HuffPost that he quickly became “so passionate about him, his legacy and his accomplishments.”
“For all queer people, there’s no denying Ric has had a direct impact on all of our lives, and yet nobody knows who he is,” said Bear, who interviewed Gates and Weiland’s partner, Mike Schaefer, for the film. “In the wrong hands, a story like Ric’s could be easy to exploit. That’s just not my jam. I really wanted to sing his praises and portray him as the hero he is.”
As Bear began working on the film, he had to grapple with the fact that Weiland was, by all accounts, a private person who never gave interviews. Over the course of his research, Bear made a startling discovery at Stanford University: an archival box containing Weiland’s personal diaries dating back to 1975, which were received as part of a donation to establish the university’s Weiland Health Initiative in 2011.
The diaries became integral to the “Yes I Am” script. Bear subsequently cast Gil Bar-Sela and Zachary Quinto to play Weiland in re-enactments and character voice-over, respectively.
The segments featuring the two actors are by far the most poignant, providing insight into Weiland’s true character but not shying away from the bouts of self-doubt and depression that preceded his death.
“I think Ric had a genius-level brain,” Bear said. “He talked so much about wanting to connect with other people on a deeper level. I think if there was one struggle in his life, it was that.”
Ultimately, Bear wants viewers to find hope in “Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story” in spite of its subject’s well-documented personal struggles.
“The whole essence of my film is that death is not the end,” he said. “Our legacies can live on forever, if we want them to. Ric is a prime example of that.”
“Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story” debuts June 16 at the Provincetown Film Festival.