Bringing a short titled 1985 to South by Southwest only two years ago, writer/director Yen Tan is back at the festival this year with the feature version. Starring Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung and Aidan Langford, the film follows Adrian (Smith), a closeted young man who goes home for the holidays, coming into collision with his family over his sexual identity and struggling to reveal his dire circumstances to them.
“In a nutshell, it’s based on my experience of interacting with a lot of people who were living with HIV and AIDS in my first job after I graduated from college,” Tan said, stopping by Deadline’s SXSW Studio with Smith, Madsen, Langford and Chung. “It’s only after all these years that I’ve started thinking about my experiences and conversations I had. I wanted to explore those stories.”
Reading Tan’s script, Madsen had a strong reaction to the material right off the bat. “It was so incredible that I ended up writing [Tan] this really long letter about people that I knew that had died, and my experiences in the 1980s. You wrote back like, ‘Wow, that was a lot,’” the actress joked, looking at her director. “But I was really very taken by it.”
“It’s a really beautiful story, but it’s a story that’s also very current,” Madsen added. “It’s not just about what was going on when people were dying of AIDS in 1985, which is an important enough story as it is. But people are living this dilemma now. There’s a lot of people who can’t come out to their families, so that struggle unfortunately remains the same today.”
Speaking with Deadline, Tan also addressed his reasons for shooting the film on Super 16mm, in color, while ultimately changing over to a black-and-white aesthetic. “One of the biggest takeaways for me was that it was a very immersive sort of look, in terms of really taking you back in time,” the director explained. “I feel like that gives us more of a timeless quality, and I also feel like we’re telling the film in a very specific way, where we’re touching upon things that haven’t really been talked about.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with Yen Tan and the stars of 1985, click above.
The Deadline Studio at SXSW 2018 is presented by MoviePass.