Shot on black-and-white super 16mm film, “1985” takes a unique look at a pivotal moment in American history through the prism of empathy, love, and family. Having been gone for three years, closeted advertising executive Adrian (Cory Michael Smith, “Gotham”) returns to his Texas hometown for the holidays during the first wave of the AIDS crisis. Burdened with an unspeakable tragedy in New York City, Adrian looks to reconnect with his preteen brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) while navigating his relationship with religious parents Eileen (Academy Award Nominee Virginia Madsen) and Dale (Golden Globe Award Winner Michael Chiklis). When he reaches out to his estranged childhood friend Carly (Jamie Chung, “The Gifted”), their unresolved issues force Adrian to confront an uncertain future that will significantly alter the lives of those around him.


This is a film about AIDS at the height of its crisis, yet the name itself is not mentioned once throughout the entire film. It’s more a story about love, coming out, and the joys of spending time with family and friends over the holiday season. While the movie itself is slow moving in parts, it allows the viewer to really connect with the characters, primarily Adrian and his family, including his younger brother Andrew, who himself is questioning his role within societal norms. While their parents are devout Christians, and his father a hard working blue collar man, their deep compassion for both their children is shown as the most important aspect in their lives. Adrian’s childhood friend Carly gives an amazing performance, especially in the most powerful moment of the film when Adrian divulges his “secret” to her and says his goodbyes.

A wonderful film to watch on World AIDS Day, or anytime over the holiday season!

Available on DVD from Wolfe Releasing.


I was inspired to write and make 1985 when I was feeling oppressed and dispirited as a queer filmmaker of color. I kept thinking about the heartwrenching stories I heard in my early 20s, largely from and about marginalized people in a culturally conservative era, and wanted to deflect and distill what I was going through in my own time. How does one carry on when the tide is relentlessly against you and there’s no respite in sight? My first job after college was working at a viatical settlement firm, where I’d interact with countless clients who were living with HIV/AIDS as they’d negotiate the sale of their life insurance policies to third parties. Seeing how they were proactively taking charge of the end of their lives ultimately inspired me to be more proactive about pursuing my own ambitions, specifically my childhood dream of filmmaking. Two decades later, I found myself revisiting
these encounters, examining my observations, and discovering a different resonance. Why did that young man designate his father as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy when he’s already disowned? Or that time when one sickly patient sighed to me: “The saddest thing is when your family doesn’t know.” Did they ever find out?

As a filmmaker and a filmgoer, I recognize that some may consider a period film that deals with AIDS, coming out (or not coming out), and religion as passé in this day and age, but the present political climate has demonstrated that bigotry and homophobia are still deeply embedded in the American culture. I see 1985 as an opportunity to connect with those who are still experiencing any type of discrimination or resistance in 2018, and to construct a familiar narrative with the benefit of hindsight. Acknowledging that most audiences will arrive knowing what happened during this time (i.e. the disease, the Reagan years) allowed me to focus attention instead on the timeless universality of what the characters experience in the context of those realities.

When Adrian wistfully relays to his younger brother Andrew that things will be different for him by the time he grows up, it’s difficult to imagine how that could even come to be in the mid 80s, a quarter of a century before “It Gets Better” became an LGBT mantra. Now, we’ve come to accept that idea as an inevitable sign of social progress. This sense of juxtaposing the past with the present is one of the predominant themes of 1985. It is my hope that audiences today still identify and relate to the classic themes it grapples with, those of family dynamics, unconditional love, being true to yourself, and the stirring idea that there can be beauty and possibility even at
the darkest hour.


Our decision to shoot on film is informed by the experience of making the short. We learned that the inherent grain structure immediately takes us back in time. Everything looks “period” very effortlessly. From the set to the wardrobe, film has the organic vintage quality right out-of-the-box. This is not the case with digital cinematography, which always requires costly and extensive grading in post. The short was made in color, but we intend to push the aesthetic further into an auteurist and classical realm by shooting the feature in black-and-white. Since we’re covering more ground and locations in the feature, black-and-white brings another layer of believability. It’s much easier to hide what is contemporary when things are not in color. This is ideal since we’re working with a small budget. Black-and-white also enables the audience to pay more attention to the subjects on the screen. This quality is especially cherished in an intimate and character-driven piece where faces and expressions are our biggest visual effects.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.