A film that takes us back to the heartache of 1985

Yen Tan delivers a powerful story with an emotional punch.

A film that takes us back to the heartache of 1985

Written and directed by filmmaker Yen Tan, 1985 gives us the story of Adrian – returning home for Christmas and trying to make up for lost time.

I caught up with Yen Tan for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

What was the inspiration for this story?

I had a job after I graduated from college in the late 90s, where I interacted with men living with HIV. They shared many stories of themselves, and of their hardships at the height of the epidemic. Making this film was a way to honour their narratives, as many of them are no longer around to tell us what they went through.

Are you drawing on any personal experiences for these characters?

There was a common thread of secrecy from the stories I remember. On a more personal note, Andrew – the character of the younger brother –  was an extension of me at that age. I remember, at the age of 10 in 1985, being terrified of the notion that I was gay and I was going to die of AIDS. Making this film was a way to tell myself that there’s a distinction between the former and the latter.

What was the casting process?

It was pretty traditional, in that the script were sent to talent agencies. That’s how we got Cory Michael Smith and Jamie Chung. Virginia Madsen was a good friend of our producer Ash Christian, so that was a direct inquiry. Cory had known Michael Chiklis from their days on Gotham, so Cory reached out to him for us.

What were some of the challenges in creating a period film?

It’s immensely challenging when you have very little money to work with. Some public locations were harder to control, since they look a lot more contemporary, but shooting on 16mm film and in black and white diffused a lot of that. Getting period appropriate cars that were still running was particularly tough.

How do you think younger LGBTQ people will respond to this story?

Many of our younger audiences I’ve encountered responded very emotionally to the story. There’s a universality to the themes we touch upon that’s not just relatable to people who’ve experienced those dark days.

It’s important to inform everyone about the early years, as it’s a way to honour the pain and the sacrifices that our queer elders went through. So much of the LGBTQ rights and progress we benefit from today came from the activism that took place then.

What do you hope that people feel when watching 1985?

A lot of it is encapsulated in the recording that Adrian leaves behind for Andrew towards the end – I won’t ruin for the audience, so they can experience that for themselves.

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