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Tom Kalin - Biography

Tom Kalin, born in Chicago in 1962, is a New York-based filmmaker, writer, producer and activist, well known as a prominent figure in the New Queer Cinema. Tom Kalin received a BFA in painting (University of Illinois, 1984), an MFA in Photography and Video (Art Institute of Chicago, 1987), and completed the Independent Study Program (Whitney Museum, 1988). In addition to his feature films Swoon (1992) and Savage Grace (2007), Tom Kalin has also created short films and video works screened in numerous international film festivals and included in the permanent collections of Centre George Pompidou, Paris and MOMA, New York. He was a founding member of AIDS activist collective Gran Fury, known for its provocative public art projects, which received The Brendan Gill Prize in 1989 and was included in the Venice Biennial in 1991. His works traverse diverse forms and genres, taking inspiration from literary sources and addressing contemporary issues such as displacement, urban isolation, and homophobia. Tom Kalin focuses on the portrayal of gay sexuality and has done a significant work in changing the public opinion of AIDS, simultaneously expanding the definition of activist video. Tom Kalin was a visiting lecturer at Brown University (1994) and Yale University (1996), and since 1997 he is the Associate Professor at the Film Division at Columbia University.

Tom Kalin's work has received support from numerous institutions including the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Paul Robeson Fund, Peter Reed Foundation, the American Film Institute, and New York State Council for the Arts. His diverse body of work garnered top honors including the Caligari Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the Fipresci Prize at the Stockholm Film Festival, the Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival and the Open Palm Award from the Independent Feature Project. Tom Kalin has produced prominent independent films, including I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and Go Fish (1994), and he has collaborated on the screenplay for Cindy Sherman's Office Killer (1997). His short films and video works known for merging text, music, and poetic images are collected in the compilations Behold Goliath or the Boy With the Filthy Laugh, Third Known Nest and Tom Kalin Videoworks: Volume 2. Tom Kalin received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2011 in support of a new installation beginning in May. The project is titled Every Evening Freedom..

Growing up next to a father who worked with juvenile delinquents, Tom Kalin made his first feature film as an attempt to understand the so-called criminal mind told through the story of symbolic anti-heroes. A negotiation of Tom Kalin's particular visual style, narrative, cultural theory and social awareness, Swoon reopens the notorious murder case from the 1920s in which two wealthy and educated homosexuals murdered a young boy in order to prove they were smart enough not to get caught. This famous case had already been told in two earlier films, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948), and Richard Fleisher's Compulsion (1959), but Tom Kalin was the first one not to downplay the topic of homosexuality. Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. escaped the death penalty only because their defense was based on the argument that they were insane due to their homosexuality. With this compelling, highly stylized film, Tom Kalin has created a period picture that knows it is a period picture, deliberately deploying anachronistic props into the frame. Interested in the topic of power of sexual control, he does not depict this murder as a criminal act, but as a sexual adventure that got out of hand, a murder that would never be possible without a particular psycho-sexual balance between the two men based on devotion and blackmail.

Initiated as a project with the producer Christing Vachon in 1992, Tom Kalin's second feature Savage Grace was filmed fifteen years later. It is based on a true story of Barbara Daly Baekeland and her incestuous relationship with her son Anthony, responsible for murdering her in the end. A wealthy and beautiful Barbara, played by Julian Moore, is married to a successful husband and lives a perfect life. Due to excessive drinking, her marriage crumbles and Barbara desperately tries to control her homosexual son as the only man left in her life. The scenes of her decision to become a part of Anthony and his partner's sexual life opened up many questions, leaving the viewer wondering if this was a true homicide. Rather, it could be interpreted as a suicide in which the mother used her emotionally unstable son as a weapon for something she was not able to perform herself. With this film, Tom Kalin also gave a powerful social critique of the upper-class to which his characters belong, widening the discussion on sex and power and the ways in which class divisions function in the allegedly classless American society.

Tom Kalin is a professor of experimental film at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Seminar.