Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. (Gay USA) created this indie masterpiece in 1985, which was the first feature length drama about AIDS. When 25 year-old gay yuppie David (David Schachter) volunteers to be a "buddy" to an AIDS patient, the gay community center assigns him to Robert (Geoff Edholm), a 32 year-old politically impassioned gay California gardener abandoned by his friends and lovers. Revolving around the confines of Robert's Manhattan hospital room, Bressan skillfully unfolds this devastating two-hander (the rest of the cast is only heard off-screen). As David gazes out at the piers and rooftops of Manhattan, we hear his deftly scripted diary entries in voiceover. And as David is changed by knowing Robert, so, too, are we. In the simplicity of the story and the elegance of its unfolding, Buddies achieves a rare perfection. It's a timeless portrayal of an entire era in gay history.
Buddies has long been unavailable, and Frameline is proud to present the new 2K digital restoration created by Vinegar Syndrome. Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, presented the film's original world premiere on September 12th, 1985 at the Castro Theatre as a benefit for the Shanti Project, with Bressan and his cast in attendance. Five days later, on September 17th 1985, President Ronald Reagan said the word "AIDS" in public for the first time. Sadly, Bressan and actor Geoff Edholm both died of AIDS, in 1987 and 1989 respectively.
Buddies was scripted in San Francisco in five days with input from friends with AIDS. It was shot independently in nine days in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco with a budget of approximately $27,000. Bressan said "For me there is a real moral issue in going around and raising several hundred thousand dollars to make a movie about the pain and suffering and lives of people with AIDS who can't make rent and are living on food stamps. I really felt I'd better make Buddies small, low budget, and powerful... I did not want to spend a year or two doing an AIDS movie which should be made now."
Quotes from Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. about Buddies
"Every once in a while you get the chance to make a statement on film that has nothing to do with your career, with ego, with money - but only with the issues of life and love and death. If Buddies turns out to be my last film, it'll be a fine way to go." - Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. quoted in Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet
"This film has to speak for me and for all of my friends who have died." -Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. quoted in The Boston Phoenix
"I made this movie because I had to make it. This one came from my heart." -Arthur J. Bressan, Jr., quoted in notes compiled by sister, Roe Bressan
"Buddies is the story of two gay people who happen to be human beings... This is not the pretty part of gay life. We had a decade of parade films and coming-out films, and I made a lot of those movies. But when something like AIDS comes up, it is important for our artists to deal with what is going on. How many dead friends does it take for you to get angry or sad? The AIDS crisis has shown that gay people have a strong underside that can deal with the ultimate issues in life, which is death, strongly, powerfully, heroically, courageously, ethically, morally, amazingly. Buddies is not just about AIDS, it's about what happens when a person, a lone individual has to face not only death, but the fear and ignorance of all of us... society." -Arthur J. Bressan, Jr., quoted in notes compiled by sister, Roe Bressan
"I made Buddies because a story movie (video) can go quickly and inexpensively to every city and home with a message - that AIDS is not a gay illness, that it hurts everybody, and that more money must be released for effective research and care." -Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. quoted in Buddies press release
About Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.
One of the pioneers of independent gay cinema in the 1970s and '80s, Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. worked across multiple genres including documentary, narrative, adult, and short form filmmaking. Bressan's boldness and artistry as a writer-director earned him both acclaim and controversy over the course of his decade-long filmmaking career.
In addition to Buddies, one of Bressan's best known films includes the ambitious 1977 documentary Gay USA (also distributed by Frameline) which showcased LGBT Pride celebrations across the country during the time of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade. A full filmography is available on the Bressan Project website.
Reviews and Awards
Press From 2018+ Digital Restoration
"A landmark film in AIDS history." -The New York Times
"An urgently moving study of life and death in the AIDS era." -The Village Voice
"The first movie to tackle the AIDS crisis is a buried treasure." -Vice
"Buddies is quite possibly the most important film you've never heard of." -The Guardian
"Not only the first narrative feature about AIDS, but also unquestionably one of the best." -NewNowNext
Press From 1985 Original Release
"In the hands of Bressan, an extraordinarily talented filmmaker whose best film this is, Buddies brings to the surface the feelings and emotions that have become a part of the lives of thousands of AIDS patients and people who love them." -Vito Russo for The Advocate
"Bressan has the unique ability to simultaneously maintain both the drama and the social message of Buddies. He never resorts to platitudes or stereotypes to hammer the message home, but instead trusts his characters to communicate their anger and affections through performance." -The Boston Globe
"[Buddies] is unerring in its presentation of gay sensibilities and the variety of responses to them. Nothing is glossed over, and the touching aspects of both the disease and personal commitments are presented truthfully." -New York Post
"There are sure to be many more feature films about AIDS, all of which will be slicker and more expensively made than Buddies... But Buddies will always have more than just the distinction of being first; it has a stark, sometimes disturbing honesty that will be difficult for Hollywood to surpass." -The Boston Herald
"For many it will surely be the most moving dramatic experience of the year..." -Bay Area Reporter
"The space, elemental gestures - and believable interactions - turn Buddies into the most powerful teller so far of truths that concern us all." -The Boston Phoenix
"Buddies is simple but exceptionally moving..." -New York Native
"Buddies breaks free from a pointless syndrome of pain to a new kind of healing American film audiences have never seen until now - and that death ultimately cannot diminish. It will encourage many gay men to become "buddies," to lobby for the kind of funding any other epidemic would already have received, to treasure each moment with one another as we never could have five years ago, and to never mistake those computer print-outs for the real story. It will do a world of good. We may not have a cure for AIDS, but Arthur Bressan, Jr. has given us some powerful lasting medicine." -Windy City Times
"[Bressan] employs the greatest disguise device of all (as he did with a previous film, the devastating Abuse): universal emotional reality softened, only around the edges, with a dash of rarified romanticism, shorn of sentimentality and slop, and a sprinkling of laughter. With a minimum of subtitling, Buddies will elicit the same response from an audience in Boise as in Berlin or Bombay." -Drum Media
"Buddies...is a crossover film - one having not only immediate appeal to the gay community but to the heterosexual world as well. For Bressan's Buddies enlightens us to love our neighbor, in sickness and in health." -S.F. Progress
"The power of Buddies resides in its utter simplicity of presentation... Buddies avoids the label of 'theme movie' through an interweaving of poignant encounters between two strangers who, together, must confront the disease and death. " -Showtime