Tom Weidlinger is an independent filmmaker who has been writing, directing and producing documentary films for thirty-five years. Many of his films have won festival awards, and twenty-one have aired nationally on public television. Concerned with themes of social justice, his work deals with a broad range of topics, from the dilemmas of humanitarian aid in the Congo to the struggles of high school students with learning differences. After a lifetime of city dwelling and global travel, Tom moved to the rural foothills of the Sierras. He and his wife, Sharon, live in a straw-bale house on twenty acres of land forested with oak and manzanita. When Tom is not writing or working on a film in his editing room, he volunteers at a community center, helping teenagers find their voice through filmmaking. He loves to snowshoe and hike in the mountains with Sharon, and takes special pleasure in close observation of natural world just outside his front door.
The Restless Hungarian, Modernism, Madness and The American Dream is the saga of an extraordinary life set against the history of the rise of Modernism, the Jewish Diaspora and the Cold War. A Hungarian Jew whose intrepid spirit helped him to escape the Holocaust, Paul Weidlinger became one of the most creative structural engineers of the twentieth century. As a young architect, he broke ranks with the great Modernists with his radical idea of the “Joy of Space.” As an engineer, he created the strength behind the beauty in Mid-Century Modern skyscrapers, churches, museums, and he gave concrete form to the eccentric monumental sculptures of Pablo Picasso, Isamu Noguchi and Jean Dubuffet. In his private life, he was a divided man, living behind a wall of denial as he lost his family to war, mental illness and suicide. In telling his father’s story, the author sifts meaning from the inspiring and contradictory narratives of a life: a motherless child and a captain of industry, a clandestine Communist who designed silos for the world’s deadliest weapons during the Cold War, a Jewish refugee who denied he was a Jew, the husband who was terrified of his wife’s madness, and a man whose personal saints were artists.
For more on Tom Weidlinger, visit https://restlesshungarian.com/
Biggest literary influencers:
John McPhee, Peter Matthiessen, Adam Hochschild, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Solnit
Last book read:
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The book that changed your life:
Disturbing the Peace by Václav Havel. I read it shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It inspired me to go to Czechoslovakia where I spent three years making a film, After The Velvet Revolution, about Havel’s dream of a free and democratic society.
Your favorite literary character:
Philip Hutton, the narrator and protagonist in The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. As a boy his loyalty to his beloved mentor is tested when it is revealed that the latter is a traitor. The conflict shapes Hutton as man, who emerges from the ordeal of war and betrayal as a person of great depth and integrity.
Currently working on:
Pre-production for filming in Hungary to complete the film based on The Restless Hungarian.
Words to live by:
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
—Disturbing The Peace by Václav Havel
Advice to new and aspiring authors:
Believe in yourself. Don’t give up.
“Weidlinger’s story of his father’s incredible life is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Historically pertinent and deeply personal, it is told with searing candor. It is poignant, tragic, and wise.”
—Kati Marton, author of The Great Escape, Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest, and True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy.
“A tender and deeply moving memoir, The Restless Hungarian explores the complicated and, at times, mysterious narratives of Paul Weidlinger’s life as they intersect with the currents of twentieth-century history. Engrossing, affecting, and beautifully written, the book offers important insights into the complexities of memory, Jewish identity, loss, intergenerational trauma, and—most essentially—family, that most luminous structure composed of both pain and love.”
—Nina Pick, Fellow, Yiddish Book Center’s Oral History Project.
“In excavating the mysterious background of his titanic father, Weidlinger deploys the kind of compressed storytelling he has honed as a documentary filmmaker: deftly intercutting between past and present, revealing tantalizing clues that he follows across continents and epochs, and providing lively context that enriches his family’s saga. It’s a deeply affecting journey.”
—Peter L. Stein, executive director (emeritus), San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.