At yesterday’s Sundance Film Festival premiere of Love, Antosha, a new documentary celebrating the life of the late actor Anton Yelchin, his grief-stricken parents Irina and Viktor Yelchin emerged for a Q&A to a standing ovation from the crowd. Sundance had been a good home to Anton, who first visited with Alpha Dog in 2006 and returned many times, and the Park City audience sobbed as Price’s film—gathered from reams of material Anton shot and wrote, as well as reminiscences from friends and co-stars—unspooled for the first time.
For the Yelchins, the past few days here in Park City have been fraught with emotion. But it’s a pain they’ve been blinded by for two-and-a-half years now, since their son’s cruel death in 2016 aged just 27. As Yelchin’s sweet notes to his mother—signed “Love, Antosha,” her nickname for him—make clear, their bond with Anton burned deep. The Olympic figure skaters and choreographers fled the Soviet Union to the United States when Anton was six months old. They didn’t speak a word of English, and had to build a new life from scratch. They told the Los Angeles Times in 1989 there was one simple reason for their challenging journey: Anton. “We were afraid for our son,” Viktor said.
In the wake of his death, they were visited by one of his co-stars, Jon Voight, and told him they saw no reason to go on living without their son. He insisted they persevere and suggested a documentary celebrating his life. Love, Antosha is the result, directed by Garret Price and produced by Drake Doremus, who directed Anton in Like Crazy. It was Doremus they approached with the idea, but he declined to direct, insisting that an objective hand be on the tiller. He suggested his editor, Price, who makes his feature debut with the film.
Many of Yelchin’s directors and fellow actors play a part. Kristen Stewart reminisces about her crush on her Fierce People co-star when she was 14, and how he later called to apologize to her after he experienced heartbreak of his own. Jennifer Lawrence is brought to tears as she reflects on the senselessness of the manner of his death. And others, like JJ Abrams, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Jodie Foster and Martin Landau, remember a diligent actor, a kindhearted friend and a driven creative force.
The film also reveals Anton’s Cystic Fibrosis diagnosis, which he kept a secret. He would wake early to perform hours of breathing exercises and fought hard to stay healthy and keep working. But the condition carries an average life expectancy of 37.5 years, and in the years before his death the struggle had been especially difficult. As his health declined, resulting in ceaseless coughing fits, Irina says that Anton had been planning to make his diagnosis public when he promoted what would have been his next project, the Audience Network’s Mr. Mercedes.
Filmmakers and friends gathered yesterday evening at a private event on Main Street to celebrate Anton’s life with Irina and Viktor. Amid a small gallery of his photography (the Yelchins will additionally release a book of his work in the Spring), Viktor told me that watching the film with an audience for the first time was a cathartic experience as he reveled in their laughter and found comfort in their tears. For Irina, watching the documentary is too overwhelming, just as she struggles to look back on his film roles.
Love, Antosha is a touching tribute to an exceptional talent robbed from the world too soon. As Irina noted, Anton Yelchin would have been 30 this year; still far too young for him to be making his final journey to the Sundance Film Festival.
Watch for more from the Yelchins, Price and Doremus in the video above.