×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

NewFest Opens With AIDS Drama; Michael Chiklis Recalls Epidemic’s Early Days

With this week’s news that the Trump administration is moving to define transgender people out of existence and roll back civil rights protections, Wednesdays’s opening of the 30th annual New York LGBT Film Festival, Newfest, couldn’t be timelier or more important. That was on the minds of Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, and Michael Chiklis, who star in the fest’s award-winning opening night film, “1985.”

On the rooftop of the Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC Hotel, the stars opened up about writer-director Yen Tan’s personal film, which subtly explores divisions in America’s heartland as a closeted young man (Smith) heads home to Texas to face his religious parents (Chiklis and Madsen) near the start of the AIDS crisis.

“I moved to NYC in the spring of 1985 and I was a member of the theater community. It was a terrifying time and we all knew many people who got sick,” Chiklis told Variety. “My first cousin passed away from HIV and his father was very much like my character — a military man, very Christian, didn’t have the tools to understand it. What I love about this film is that it’s nuanced and doesn’t proselytize. It’s just real. This film is vitally important, because we are so polarized and so divided right now.”

It’s something Madsen has dealt with in the starkest terms. “I always wished that I would have the kind of job where what I do artistically illustrates how I feel,” she said. “People realize that I’m probably a liberal democrat, since I’m an artist and I care about the environment, but I feel doing something like this film is more effective than any march. I participate in those, but sometimes I feel it’s dangerous for me, physically, because I get threats — a lot of us do. It’s a very scary time, and so I choose to use my voice through my work rather than on a microphone at a rally, and God bless those who do… I feel we’re not going to get anything done until we meet in the middle and cooperate. ”

Smith believed in the project enough to recruit his “Gotham” co-stars Chiklis and Jamie Chung. “It’s why I have an executive producer credit,” he explained. “I think the film is relevant in that there’s still a stigma about HIV both universally and within the queer community, and to recognize that there’s a deep pain we cause people when we disenfranchise people is a positive thing.”

But an equally important message he wants to get out is about “1985” itself. “There can easily be a trap when you hear it’s a black-and-white AIDS drama set in the ’80s, where it sounds like it’s overwrought or there are histrionics,” Smith said. “It’s a quiet film – an elegy to these men who didn’t necessarily fight, and the power of love and family.”

Along with the gay conversion drama U.S. centerpiece “Boy Erased” on Thursday and closing night doc “Making Montgomery Clift” on Tuesday, NewFest exec director Robert Kushner and programming & operations manager Nick McCarthy hope this landmark 30th edition shows how far the LGBT community has come.

“When NewFest began in 1988 during the height of the AIDS crisis, our community was being defined primarily through a lens of illness and fear. Empowering images for and of LGBTQ individuals were few and far between,” Kushner says. “It’s just as important in today’s political climate, when our government is proposing erasing not just transgender rights but full recognition of transgender individuals, that we must make sure we’re defining ourselves. LGBTQ filmmakers are leading that charge, and NewFest remains a platform for promoting equality and empowerment.”

“1985” opens on Oct. 26 in New York and Los Angeles.

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • 50 Cent Power S6 Premiere

    50 Cent, Snoop Dogg & Trey Songz 'Power' Up New York City for Massive Season 6 Premiere

    “Power” is entering its final season, but you would never know if you walked by Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Starz pulled out all the stops for its ratings powerhouse “Power,” throwing a massive premiere event, complete with a full-length concert at Madison Square Garden from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and a [...]

  • Diane Warren'Late Night' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Songs of Hope to Honor Diane Warren, Marc Shaiman, Boi-1da, More at 15th Annual Event

    Cancer research and treatment center City of Hope today announced the initial lineup of presenters and honorees who will celebrate the song and songwriter at its 15th annual Songs of Hope event. Among the music and entertainment industry VIPs in attendance will be veteran executive and producer Clive Davis, producer Boi-1da (Drake, Kendrick Lamar), award-winning [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content