Tom Kalin

Tom Kalin

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Film and Video

Competition: US & Canada

Columbia University

Tom Kalin’s work traverses diverse forms and genres, from experimental video installations to narrative feature films. Known as a prominent figure in the New Queer Cinema, his nonfiction narrative films Swoon and Savage Grace dramatize the individual and social consequences of two notorious American crimes. In contrast, his often-diaristic short films, videos, and installations spring from a more quotidian landscape and address contemporary issues such as displacement, broken romance, urban isolation, and homophobia. In his Guggenheim project, Every Evening Freedom, Kalin takes inspiration from the prescient work of American writer Alfred Chester concerning the liminal space between work and play, day and night, conscious and unconscious worlds. A reflection on both the conceptual framework and physical object of the palimpsest, Every Evening Freedom employs layering, transparency, and erasure in a mutable projected installation, with particular emphasis on viewing at dusk—the so-called “magic hour."

Kalin earned a B.F.A. in Painting from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and was awarded the Mary C. McClellan Scholarship for his mixed media work. He received an M.F.A. in Photography and Video from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he also worked as the Assistant Director of the Visiting Artists Program. In 1987, he moved to New York City to attend the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program, Studio Program. While at the Whitney Program, he completed They are lost to vision altogether, a video that charts the early years of AIDS through the bombast of mainstream news reports and was later included in the 1991 Whitney Biennial. In 1987, Kalin also became a founding member of AIDS activist collective Gran Fury, known for its provocative public art projects. Gran Fury was awarded the Brendan Gill Prize, exhibited in the 1991 Venice Biennial, and had a major retrospective of its work in 2012at New York University’s 80 Washington Square East Galleries.

His 1992 feature, Swoon, tells the infamous tale of Leopold and Loeb, two precocious young men who murdered a boy in 1924 in what was then called The Crime of the Century. Swoon was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards and awarded the Caligari Prize in Berlin, the Fipresci Prize in Stockholm, Best Cinematography at Sundance, and the Open Palm at the IFP Gotham Awards. It was named one of the top 100 American Independent films by the British Film Institute and received support from the NEA, NYSCA, The Jerome Foundation, and the American Film Institute, among others.


As a producer his feature films include Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol and Rose Troche’s Go Fish. Harron’s film continued his work in nonfiction narrative, this time as producer. His second feature as director, Savage Grace, was based on the best-selling book of the same name and stars Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, and Stephen Dillane. A troubling narrative of privilege gone wrong in the tradition of Henry James or Edith Wharton (but instead based on true crime), Savage Grace premiered in Cannes, played opening night in Zurich, and screened at dozens of festivals, including Sundance, Stockholm, London, and Tribeca. It was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and named one of the top ten films of 2008 by Artforum and Paper.

Since 1983, Kalin has made a range of “single channel” and installation works in an ever-evolving range of media, including analog and digital video, super-8 and 16mm film, and computer and hand-drawn animation. From 1991 to 1999 he made a series of nine short films connected by nine short interstitial text pieces titled Third Known Nest which takes its name from a short ornithology film made about Nathan Leopold, the protagonist of Swoon. He was again included in the Whitney Biennial in 1995 for these short works.


In 1993, fashion designer Geoffrey Beene commissioned Kalin to write and direct a lyrical narrative film commemorating his 30th anniversary. The cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, Russell Wong, Claire Danes, and Viveca Lindfors. Kalin was later awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and a Peter Reed Foundation Grant for Behold Goliath, a poetic inquiry into the process of biography through the life and work of writer Alfred Chester (1928–1971). This unconventional “essay film” moves between narrative, documentary, and experimental techniques to explore the malleable nature of identity.

Recent experimental work includes Every Wandering Cloud, Tigers, Aftermath, The Best Thing, Incontinent, and From Silence. Kalin’s films and videos are in the permanent collection of the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, The Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others, and have screened throughout the world in venues including ICA, London; Reina Sofia, Madrid; The Cartier Foundation, Paris; and The Getty Museum, among many others. In addition to his Guggenheim project Kalin is currently collaborating with musician Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) on an evening of live music and film and developing a new feature screenplay.


Since 1997 he has been a member of the full-time Directing Faculty at Columbia University’s School of the Arts Film Division where he is currently a full Professor. He previously was a

visiting lecturer or adjunct professor at Brown University, Yale University, and California Institute for the Arts.

Scroll to Top