Yen Tan Sets a Timeless Drama Against the AIDS Crisis at SXSW Film

A different spirit of Christmas in Dallas filmmaker's 1985

Yen Tan Sets a Timeless Drama Against the AIDS Crisis at SXSW Film

Like all good stories about death, 1985 is full of life. Dallas-based director Yen Tan's latest feature film gracefully portrays one man's struggle with coming out while simultaneously coming to terms with the AIDS crisis of the Eighties.

Set in Dallas over Christmas 1985, Adrian (played beautifully by Gotham's Cory Michael Smith), returns home after three years, intent on coming out to his religious parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis) and younger brother. Most viewers will quickly connect the well-placed dots, but the words "gay" and "AIDS" are never said throughout the movie. Allusions to both, however, are delicately peppered throughout the film. Tan confirmed this was intentional. "It's very real to that time – no one said those words."

With that same intention applied throughout, 1985 (based off Tan's SXSW 2016 short of the same name, and inspired by real-life stories shared with him during his first job helping terminally ill people sell their insurance policies) is a film of contradictions. Despite being set in the era of neon colors, 1985 is shot entirely in black and white, an effect that lends a timeless feel to the film. That's because, in spite of the name, 1985 is not about the Eighties. "It's ultimately a movie about people – how people connect or not connect with each other." But, it's also a statement on how the country handled the epidemic at the time: It was a "very black and white issue," said Tan.

Yet, Tan's most beautifully crafted contradiction is the story's relationship with death. Like Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Future, death feels like a character. Despite much foreboding, no one – not even the dog – dies. The effect, however, is a subtle mixing of sadness, acceptance, and a mundane celebration of life: cuddling your pet, listening to Madonna, watching a movie (that will become a gay cult classic) with your brother. It is not an easy movie to watch, but it is a beautiful, shockingly hopeful story about embracing one's otherness.



Friday, March 9, 6:30pm, Zach Theatre
Saturday, March 10, 6:30pm, AFS Cinema
Tuesday, March 13, 7:15pm, Rollins Theatre
Thursday, March 15, 9pm, Stateside

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

John Krasinski and Emily Blunt on Their New Horror <i>A Quiet Place</i>
Visiting A Quiet Place
The filmmaking power couple on fighting monsters and real intimacy

Richard Whittaker, April 6, 2018

SXSW Film Review: <i>Upgrade</i>
Review: Upgrade
Cyberpunk action thriller has a few hidden features

Richard Whittaker, March 19, 2018

More by Sarah Marloff
Federal Judge Hears Oral Arguments in Sexual Assault Class Action
Federal Judge Hears Oral Arguments in Sexual Assault Class Action
Yeakel to consider motions to dismiss before issuing scheduling order

Dec. 17, 2018

Be the gift that keeps on giving

Dec. 14, 2018


SXSW, SXSW Film 2018, AIDS, Yen Tan, 1985, Queer Cinema

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle