Professor of Experimental Film at The European Graduate School / EGS.
Tom Kalin (b. 1962) is a New York-based filmmaker, writer, producer, and activist who is well known as a prominent figure of New Queer Cinema.
Born in Chicago, Tom Kalin received a BFA in painting from the University of Illinois in 1984, an MFA in Photography and Video from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1987, and completed the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum in 1988. He has been an associate professor at Columbia University’s Film Program since 2007 and has taught at Brown University and Yale University. In addition to his feature films Swoon (1992) and Savage Grace (2007), Tom Kalin has also created short films and video works that have screened at numerous international film festivals and have been included in the permanent collections of the Centre George Pompidou in Paris and the MoMA in New York. He was a founding member of the AIDS activist collective Gran Fury which was known for its provocative public art projects, some of which received the Brendan Gill Prize in 1989 and were included in the Venice Biennial in 1991. Kalin’s work traverses forms and genres, taking inspiration from literary sources and addressing contemporary issues such as displacement, urban isolation, and homophobia. Mainly focusing on the portrayal of gay sexuality, Tom Kalin’s work has significantly contributed towards changing public attitudes towards AIDS while simultaneously expanding the definition of activist videos.
Tom Kalin’s work has received support from numerous institutions, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the Paul Robeson Fund, the Peter Reed Foundation, the American Film Institute, and New York State Council for the Arts. His films have garnered top honors, including the Caligari Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the Fipresci Prize at the Stockholm Film Festival, Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Open Palm Award from the Independent Feature Project. In addition, Tom Kalin has produced prominent independent films, including I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and Go Fish (1994), and has collaborated on the screenplay for Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer (1997). Known for merging text, music, and poetic images, his short films and videos have been collected in the compilations Behold Goliath or the Boy With the Filthy Laugh, Third Known Nest, and Tom Kalin Videoworks: Volume 2. In 2011, Tom Kalin received a Guggenheim Fellowship to create a new installation entitled Every Evening Freedom.
Growing up with a father who worked with juvenile delinquents, Tom Kalin made his first feature film as an attempt to understand the so-called criminal mind through a story of symbolic anti-heroes. Displaying Kalin’s particular mixture of visual style, narrative, cultural theory, and social awareness, Swoon (1992) reopened a notorious 1920s murder case in which two wealthy, educated homosexuals murdered a young boy in order to prove that they were smart enough not to get caught. This 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 director not to downplay the issue of homosexuality. In the historical case, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. only escaped the death penalty because their defense was based on the argument that they were insane due to their homosexuality. Deliberately deploying anachronistic props, Tom Kalin created a compelling, highly stylized period picture that explores issues of power and sexual control. Interestingly, he does not depict the murder as a criminal act but as a sexual adventure that gets out of hand—a murder that would never have occurred without an underlying psycho-sexual relationship based on devotion and blackmail.
Initially begun with producer Christine Vachon in 1992, Tom Kalin’s second feature, Savage Grace (2007), was finally made fifteen years later. The film is based on the true story of Barbara Daly Baekeland and her incestuous relationship with her son Anthony, who ended up murdering her. Wealthy and beautiful, Barbara (played by Julianne Moore) is married to a successful husband and lives a perfect life. However, when her marriage crumbles due to alcohol abuse, Barbara desperately tries to control her homosexual son, the only man left in her life. The scenes in which she decides to become involved in Anthony’s sex life throw up numerous questions, leaving audiences wondering if this was actually a homicide. Alternatively, Barbara’s death could be interpreted as a suicide in which she uses her emotionally unstable son as a weapon to carry out an act which she herself is unable to perform. With this film, Tom Kalin also offers a powerful social critique of the upper class to which his characters belong, widening discussions of sex and power and illustrating how class divisions function in an allegedly classless American society.
Savage Grace. Directed by Tom Kalin. Ifc, 2007. ASIN: B001F0TM4Y
Every Wandering Cloud
Every Wandering Cloud. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2005.
Excerpts from Behold Goliath
Excerpts from Behold Goliath. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2004.
Ghost Hunting: World of the Weird
Ghost Hunting: World of the Weird. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2004.
Some Desperate Crime on My Head
Some Desperate Crime on My Head. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2003.
The Robots of Sodom
The Robots of Sodom. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2002.
Every Evening Freedom
Every Evening Freedom. Directed by Tom Kalin. 2002.
Nine (James Baldwin)
Nine (James Baldwin). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Eight (Roland Barthes)
Eight (Roland Barthes). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Seven (Virginia Wolf)
Seven (Virginia Wolf). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Six (Virginia Wolf)
Six (Virginia Wolf). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Five (Alfred Chester)
Five (Alfred Chester). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Four (Oscar Wilde)
Four (Oscar Wilde). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Three (Derek Jarman)
Three (Derek Jarman). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Two (Patricia Highsmith)
Two (Patricia Highsmith). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
One (Jane Bowles)
One (Jane Bowles). Directed by Tom Kalin. 2000.
Third Known Nest
Third Known Nest. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1999.
Dark Cave. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1998.
Give Me Your Future
Give Me Your Future. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1999
I hung back, held fire, danced and lied
I hung back, held fire, danced and lied. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1997.
Plain Pleasures. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1996.
Information Gladly Given but Safety Requires Avoiding…
Information Gladly Given but Safety Requires Avoiding… Directed by Tom Kalin. 1995.
Nomads. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1994.
Confirmed Bachelor. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1994.
Darling Child. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1993.
Geoffrey Beene 30
Geoffrey Beene 30. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1993.
Nation. American Center. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1992.
Swoon. Directed by Tom Kalin. American Playhouse, 1992. ASIN: B0002QO1MK
Finally Destroy Us
Finally Destroy Us. 4 min. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1991.
Killing Doesn’t Kill
Killing Doesn’t Kill. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1990.
They are lost to vision altogether
They are lost to vision altogether. Directed by Tom Kalin. 1988.
“Fashion and Film: A Symposium
Kalin, Tom, Geoffrey Beene, Grace Mirabella, and Matthew Yokobosky. “Fashion and Film: A Symposium.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art Vol. 20, No. 3 (1998): 12-21.
Virus as Nationalism
Kalin, Tom. “Virus as Nationalism.” Camera Obscura Vol. 10, No. 128 (1992): 100-133
Kalin, Tom, and Megan Rellahan, “Interview.” EZine, December 16, 2009.
Kalin, Tom, and Betty Gordon. “Tom Kalin.” Bomb, June 2008.
Kalin, Tom, and Lisa Garibay. “Little Deaths.” Filmmaker Magazine Interview, May 22, 2008.
Savage Grace’ Director Tom Kalin on Julianne Moore’s Incest Scene
Kalin, Tom, and Justin Ravitz. “‘Savage Grace’ Director Tom Kalin on Julianne Moore’s Incest Scene.” New York Magazine, March 4, 2008.
Kalin, Tom, and Heidi Atwal, “Interview.” ARTISTDirect, June 16, 2008.
Kalin, Tom. “Video Interview.” Actual Oral History Project, February 4, 2004.