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Tom Weidlinger is an independent filmmaker who has been writing, directing and producing documentary films for 35 years. Twenty-one of his films have been broadcast on public television. Many have won prestigious festival and industry awards and are in educational distribution.
Weidlinger graduated from the Center for Advanced Film Studies of the American Film Institute (AFI) in 1977. He was awarded a William Benton Fellowship in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Chicago in 1993. He has received writing fellowships and residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Ossabaw Island Foundation, and the McDowell Colony.
Immediately following his training in classic narrative film writing and directing at AFI, Weidlinger was hired as an associate producer and then director of historical recreations for Cosmos, the 1978 PBS series on astronomy. On Cosmos Weidlinger worked closely with Adrian Malone, best known for having developed the BBC’s “intellectual landscape” model for multi-part television series, exemplified by The Ascent of Man with Jacob Bronowski. Weidlinger continued to work for his mentor Malone as a development writer in the early 1980s, most notably on the treatments and bible for a multi-part series commissioned by Marlon Brando and Norman Lear on Native American cultures, entitled The Vision Road.
In 1984 Weidlinger was hired as a producer, director, and co-writer with historian William Goetzmann to produce four hour-long programs for the six-part series The West of the Imagination. Commissioned by KERA-TV (the Dallas, Texas, PBS station) it juxtaposed the myth and reality of the exploration and settlement of the American West as portrayed by nineteenth-century artists and photographers. With a generous budget Weidlinger produced extensive dramatic recreations for the series and filmed in every state west of the Mississippi River.
In 1987 Weidlinger founded Moira Productions and made the transition from working as a producer and director for hire to independent filmmaker, developing and raising funding for Moira’s own films. At the same time he moved away from the filmmaking style typified by dramatic recreations within a documentary format (Cosmos and The West of the Imagination). He produced his first two archival documentaries for the PBS flagship series The American Experience. His program The Great San Francisco Earthquake was selected as the premiere for the first season of the series. Judith Crichton, the series’ executive producer, was an important influence on Weidlinger’s work. Crichton, who in 1974 became the first woman producer for CBS Reports, was a veteran journalist who challenged Weidlinger to work within a pure documentary framework while remaining faithful to the art of story-telling.
In 1989, inspired by the writings of Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel, Weidlinger embarked on a multi-year project to chronicle the evolution of Czechoslovak society after the fall of communism. Weidlinger moved to Prague in 1990 and collaborated with the Czech producer Jiri Jezek to produce After the Velvet Revolution, which traced the lives of young Czechs and Slovaks as they adjust to life in a new democracy and free market economy. The film was shot over a period of four years, ending in 1993 with the partition of Czechoslovakia.
In 1994 Weidlinger’s Moira Productions was awarded one of the single largest production grants ($1.5 million) provided by the Independent Television Service. The grant funded a four-hour series, Making Peace, about grass-roots activists helping to heal conditions that create violence. As Executive Producer Weidlinger hired and mentored emerging filmmakers Catherine Ryan, John Valadez, and Marco Williams to make films about programs responding to domestic and gang violence. He himself wrote and produced the fourth episode in the series, Facing Racism.
Weidlinger subsequently received funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for the Making Peace outreach campaign, which provided technical and organizational assistance to over 200 schools, churches, health agencies, and other nonprofits, using public screenings of the programs as a catalyst for community action. During the early years of the Internet, the Making Peace Action Campaign of 1996 became a model for effective, media-related social activism.
In the year 2000 Weidlinger began a decade-long relationship with the Lillian Lincoln Foundation, which commissioned him to make six documentary films for public television. Weidlinger’s films during this period reflect a maturation of his filmmaking technique and style with a commitment to social justice and environmental issues. The feature length version of A Dream in Hanoi (2002) received a theatrical release prior to its public television broadcast and was lauded by reviewers for major publications. Variety called it “a tremendously moving... lovingly crafted pic.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer dubbed it “profoundly moving,” and the reviewer for The Oregonian asserted that the film was “swift, sometimes funny, and always compelling.” The film tells the behind-the-scenes story of collaboration between a Vietnamese and American theater company to mount a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Vietnam’s national theatre.
Summaries and reviews for this film as well as others commissioned by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation can be found at each film’s individual website.
In 2010 Weidlinger created the curriculum for an interdisciplinary semester-long class, which he co-taught with historian Gretchen Lemke Santangelo at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Documenting Social Justice Movements examines the response of print and audiovisual media to human suffering. The class explores advocacy and objectivity; professional responsibility and personal biases; how media figures negotiate the tension between propaganda and art; and dispassionate observation and the ethical responsibility to relieve the suffering of others.
Weidlinger’s 2011 film, Original Minds, marks a significant stylistic departure from his previous work. Commissioned by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation to make a film on learning disabilities, Weidlinger resolved on an approach that put the experiences and insights of children with learning differences squarely at the center of his narrative. Rather than using children as illustrations of dysfunction, he enlisted them to help tell their own stories. Working for six months with students from two San Francisco Bay Area high schools, Weidlinger trained them as video diarists to observe, identify, and articulate their own neurodevelopmental strengths and weaknesses.
Weidlinger's multi-part series, on cooking and sustainable agriculture, is being developed in 2011.
© 2011, Tom Weidlinger/Moira Productions
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