All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.


Two of the Chicago-born brothers Quinn, Paul and Aidan, spoke in Dallas recently about the joys and difficulties of their joint project “This Is My Father.”

In one way the film is a labor of love and filial piety. Paul’s script was loosely based on a story told by their mother (it had actually involved a neighbor of hers), and his depiction of the strong-willed young girl who falls in love with a far-poorer farmer was based, to an extent, on his parent. And since the brothers had each spent some years in Ireland, it related to their own experience.

“We lived in Ireland in ’72 and ’73,” Paul recalled. “And we spent a lot of time in the country, because our family had a lot of farmers, and in the Ireland of that time, in certain areas it was like going back hundreds of years. So you get a taste of something old and rich. It really impressed me at that age, and stuck with me.”

The script, however, was not written with Aidan in mind. “It was selfish on my part,” Paul said about enlisting his siblings in the project after the script had been finished. “I thought, the only way I’m going to get to direct this film is if I put everyone I know in it. And who do I know? I know Declan, I know Aidan, I know Johnny [Cusack, with whom he’d earlier founded a Chicago theatre company]. Fortunately, Declan and Aidan really liked the script and responded to it. I think otherwise they would have found their schedule quite busy. Don’t you think?” he asked his brother.

“Probably,” Aidan replied. The actor, who’s been much trimmer and hunkier in films from “Reckless” through “The Mission,” “The Playboys,” “Avalon,” and “Legends of the Fall,” remarked on how he had to change his appearance for this role. “I had a great hair and makeup man,” he said. “And we designed the look–with an eye-piece and false teeth we
had made up at a dentist’s. We really wanted to get away from any good-looking, glamour thing. And Paul had the great idea that I should gain a lot of weight, and I have him to thank because I haven’t lost it all yet.”

Still, the 37-day shoot, while demanding, wasn’t the most difficult part of the project; securing a distributor for the picture once it was completed was. It travelled the festival circuit for a year and was nearly sold to television before the brothers discovered that their sales representative had turned down offers which he considered too low. The brothers then contacted Sony Pictures themselves and reached an agreement to get the film into theatres. “Thank God there were two of us, because there were times you just get so depressed,” Aidan said of the long search for a distributor. “We knew audiences loved it, and we knew critics loved it. So we wondered, what’s the problem?”

And as of now, there isn’t any.


Jeremy Northam and Gemma Jones visited Dallas recently to talk about their work with David Mamet on “The Winslow Boy.” Both admitted to some initial surprise at the choice of material, but came to see the rightness of it.

Northam, well-known to audiences for his work in “The Net,” “Emma,” and “Mimic,” remarked: “Once you look past the surface surprise of it being a period movie and it not being in a contemporary street setting and that the language is not David’s own–he wouldn’t write in this particular style–then it’s not so much of a surprise, because there are connections thematically. I suppose there was surprise as well at the depth of his being moved by the idea of gentility and politeness and good manners and altruism and self-sacrifice that are shown in the story…. But then when you go back to look at the older scripts and films, you can say maybe that sense of justice is what fired his interest in stories which so often deal with a form of corruption and of cunning and gulling and treachery and deception. I think that beneath it all there’s this rock on honor in this story that really appealed to him.” He also noted that it’s perhaps Mamet’s connection to the play’s themes that makes his treatment of it seem “less and less an old warhouse…and much more about ideas of self-sacrifice and altruism and the impossibility in some way of defining what people’s motives are.” Jones, who appeared in “Sense and Sensibility” and “Wilde,” added: “[David’s] very much a man of letters and literature who very much enjoys the craft of writing and loved the way this play was crafted.”

Both stars discussed the restrained acting style required by the piece. “It takes a lot of courage to be that minimalist, because we’re really tempted to show the audience what you mean or what you feel,” Northam remarked. “We just had to trust David that as long as we knew what we felt or what we meant, the camera would pick it up.” He added that the dramatic technique of not directly showing big moments in the plot, but having them related second-hand, was actually beneficial to the performers, because it allows “all possibilities [to be] present” when one’s character reappears. “That gives you the opportunity to hint at a whole set of stories,” he said.

Jones agreed. “My instincts had been at the time to go bigger with it,” she said. “But David always found very good reasons for pulling me back. That was quite scary; I was afraid it was going to come out too bland. But I was very impressed when I saw the film at how clear it was that although the emotional dynamic band might be quite narrow, within it there’s plenty of variety, so you see people’s momentary thoughts and feelings quite clearly.”

The film was shot almost completely in a real period house in London. “There was actually a family living in the house while we were filming, with a very small child,” Jones recalled. “And they were hiding away in rooms at the top of the house, trying to keep their children quiet.” And the actors, conversely, had to keep the noise down when the children were napping. But not a bit of the difficulty can be discerned in the beautifully poised appearance of the final product.