About the Slocum Filmmakers

Paul Fierlinger

Paul Fierlinger, filmmaker.
Paul Fierlinger, filmmaker.
paulfierlinger001I immigrated three times. My first split came when I was three, at the outset of WWII. My family of Czechoslovak career diplomats had to leave Japan, where all three of us were born; Atya, a sister 10 years my senior, 8 years later followed by my brother, Peter, and a year later it was my turn, a second, uninvited surplus child. Our mother was a Jew; father a Catholic, both uninterested in such things. Raised by a Japanese nanny, my brother and I could speak only Japanese when our parents brought us to the US in 1939, but our attractive sister could speak the Queen’s literati English without ever having read more than a book or two in her whole life.

paulfierlinger003My parents, both polyglots, kept Atya in NY City whereas Peter and I were distributed into foster care across the Northeast; first into a large family of a Baptist minister-farmer in the wilderness of New Hampshire, later followed by a one year boarding school stint in tony Scarborough, New York, from where we were transferred to a childless couple hailing from Burlington, Vermont: a Mr. Rolland Doane and a true Yank from Maine, who was a serious Presbyterian professor of Latin and French, and his austere, very young student bride, Mrs. Caroline Doane who was an emigrant from Holland and was also a volunteer nurse, supporting the home front in the leafier sections of Burlington.

paulfierlinger005Somewhere along these formative war years my love affair with America went surface-to-air. In 1946 Peter and I were set to sea by the Doanes and picked off the ship by our mother in bombed out Le Havre, France. By now, my father’s brother, uncle Zdeněk Fierlinger, had won through a nefarious game of postwar politics the seat of prime minister of Czechoslovakia, the first elected communist prime minister in the young nation’s democratic history. Zdeněk kept our father in government throughout his life, and our mother shortly after died of cancer.

paulfierlinger007Peter and I, the immigrant half-orphans were immediately inserted into a grim boarding school in Poděbrady castle, to learn Czech and hopefully, forget our American English (and all that came with it). Out of pure and focused determination, Peter and I never did any of this well. We felt ourselves to be involuntary immigrants to a hostile land and my views of the place have never changed since. I studied art from the age of 15 to 19, when I matriculated from an out-of- the –way small ceramics school in Bechyně, Southern Bohemia.  There, out of view of my peers and professors, I began my first experiments with homemade animation. Everyone’s first experiments in animation are successful but I instinctively grasped the entire concept this art form had to offer for life. Where today’s animation hopefuls envision a non-existent pipedream of glamorous teamwork, fame, fortune and play, I presciently recognized a craft based purely on individualism and voluntary self-confinement, opened to endless possibilities of becoming distinctive without interference from the adult world or the need to anticipate uninvited support from the established order. There was a self-imposed requirement attached to such a grand vision: things would go better once I could return to my never forgotten America.


By deceit I got out of Czechoslovakia in September of 1967, still over a year before the Soviet occupational forces would invade their satellite. I arrived in NYC via Care International in October of 1968 and found my first animation job as a temp for Concept Films in Philadelphia, producing political ads for Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic Party.

paulfierlinger022Coming here I was socially a conservative with deep felt convictions in opposition of the radical left which I had already experienced enough of for a lifetime. I didn’t want to live in a country that had generously accepted me and then live and hold views in opposition of its ideals, thus I naturally became a Republican.

paulfierlinger023After George W. Bush I switched to being a Democrat. I felt I had given back enough by now and won my right to choose more wisely and independently.

I supported president Obama in the last two elections because he’s an intellectual and I felt that this country needs to have in the White House someone with intelligence and a propensity for making deliberative decisions.

Filmmaker Paul Fierlinger was born in 1936 in Ashiya, Japan; 79 years old, an independent animator for 58 years, has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1969. For the past 26 years he lives and works with his co-artist wife and collaborator, Sandra Schuette Fierlinger, in Wynnewood, PA.

Sandra Schuette Fierlinger

Sandra Schuette Fierlinger, filmmaker
Sandra Schuette Fierlinger, filmmaker
01-reading-booksI grew up with two older sisters and a brother. When we played games I always felt like the odd one out.

I preferred looking at pictures and making up my own stories over learning to read.

I remember I had a chalkboard and the first drawing I drew on looked like a face of a very old man. I was very impressed with myself; it was actually a human face, not just a doodle. There was a connection I immediately grasped; it was about looking at something and learning about it when I drew instead of reading about something.

02-family-I used to have dreams that everyone was going on vacation and drove off without me so I would jump into the other car and drive after them. So I learned to drive early; I was probably thirteen. Mom would let me drive up and down the driveway.

School in general scared me; it was demanding with all the tests and I would fail them all. That’s how I felt at least, so Mom found a small private school for me where I could do my art. The school had a different curriculum of learning, so I was able to do my art instead of writing papers. It was a very kind country school; people were just generally kind there.

03-highschoolIn high school, in my senior year, because of my photographic skills, I was asked to make the yearbook so I made it a whole picture book with nothing written in it. There was nothing to read about anybody, which was unheard of but my classmates loved it! We were that kind of class. We didn’t do proms or anything like that. I would bring my dog to class with me and she just sat there, a very nice dog, but nobody else would ever dare do anything like that. The headmistress and my classmates were all scared of me because I was so crazy. “We learn with joy” was our school’s motto.

04-with-LaskeyThe two art schools I applied to were San Francisco Art Institute and the Boston Museum School. Both schools didn’t have any other curriculum than art and both recommended not applying directly from high school and I was accepted into both of them, which made me very proud of myself – after being recommended not coming there. I went to Boston so I could be closer to my family to whom I was still very much attached. There were no dorms so I rented a place with friends, but it was crazy living. One guy thought he was the best artist in the world and was very violent with all of us and I just didn’t get along with any of them. I finished the first year but didn’t go back. I was then accepted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and finished after four years. But I had one formative summer during that period where I spent six weeks studying under legendary artist and teacher Leslie Laskey at his summer workshop.

05-meeting-PaulHe said he would crack my wrists; he gave me a project that had absolutely no answer to it. He was posing problems about dealing with the outside space of a tree instead of just drawing a tree as anyone would see it and it would just baffle me of what he wanted. I spent more time with him than anybody else and it finally clicked: that it was up to me to find the answer for it and that it was the experience I was going through that produced what was on the paper. So it was that concept that I brought back to school and started testing. It was this very quiet period in my training that eventually led to my professional life with Paul.