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(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and runs all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Adapted from his short film of the same title, Yen Tan’s 1985 is a moody study of how one individual is impacted by the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Photographed by Hutch in grainy black and white, 1985 plays like a period piece (a not so subtle reminder to those of us who were teenagers in 1985 that it was over 30 years ago!). The stylistic choice conveys that the 80s were a different time (although there are also eerie similarities between the Reagan and Trump eras); it also adds a layer of soberness to the mise en scene.

Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) left his Dallas family for greener pastures in New York City. As a young gay male, Texas was not a nurturing environment for him in the early 80s, but little did he know that he would be immersing himself into a hotbed of AIDS. The things that Adrian has seen and experienced in NYC has quite obviously impacted him, giving him a melancholic air. He seems lost and scared.

1985 begins with Adrian’s first visit to Texas in several years. Because his parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis) are conservative Christians, Adrian finds himself mentally forced back into the closet, having to repeatedly lie to his family about his career and living situation. He doesn’t even feel comfortable telling his best friend from childhood (Jamie Chung) the truth.

Adrian does notice some qualities in his younger brother, Andrew (Aidan Langford), that hint to some commonalities. As their father says, Andrew has “gone soft.” So, Adrian makes a conscious effort to connect with Andrew and help him feel more comfortable in his skin. Music is the key in establishing that connection, as Adrian takes the opportunity to turn his brother onto burgeoning “alternative” bands like The Cure and R.E.M.

Tan’s film is about the importance of acceptance, especially from family and friends. Unfortunately, some political and religious perspectives don’t always allow for that. Sadly, this is true even today (for example, we currently have a Vice President who is an ardent supporter of conversion therapy). Cory Michael Smith’s beautiful performance gives us tremendous insight into the internalization of his pain and sadness. Not being able to talk about what he’s going through is tearing him apart.

Tan specifically hones in on the difficulties of being gay in Texas, a place where “real men” are defined by hyper-masculinity, Christianity, guns, and football. You might see 1985 as a companion piece to Tan’s Pit Stop (2013), as both films examine the difficulties of being gay in Texas. Even three decades later, life isn’t any easier for Pit Stop’s Gabe and Ernesto. How much longer do we have to wait for this close-mindedness to end?!

(**Editors note: Yen Tan is “a friend of Hammer to Nail” and has served as a juror for our shorts contest)

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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