Robert F. "Bob" Swaim is an American film director, born in Chicago on November 2, 1943. He grew up in the Reseda area of Los Angeles and graduated from Reseda High School in 1961 and with a degree in anthropology from California State University, Northridge, then called San Fernando Valley State College, in 1965.
Bob then went to France to work on his doctorate in ethnology. He studied at the Collège de France with Claude Lévi-Strauss and Georges Ballandier at L'École des Langues Orientales. However, spending most of his free time at the French Cinématheque, he quickly caught the "film bug" and dropped out of his doctoral program and entered l'École Nationale de la Cinématographie et la Photographie on the rue de Vaugirard, later known as l'Ecole Louis Lumière.
After graduating from "Vaugirard" in 1970, Swaim spent most of the seventies writing and directing documentaries and commercials. Unable to break into the closed world of feature films, he founded, along with several other young filmmakers, a film company to produce their own films. During the few years of their existence, they produced over fifty theatrical short films of young debutant filmmakers including 3 short films that Swaim wrote, directed and produced. The three films won numerous international prizes and awards and enable Swaim to write and direct his first feature film, La Nuit de Saint Germain des Prés (1977) starring Michel Galabru, Mort Shuman, and for the first time on screen, a young talented actor named Daniel Auteuil. The film also marked the re-discovery of a long forgotten French writer, Leo Malet and introduced his character, Nestor Burma, to a new generation of mystery fans.
The La Nuit de Saint Germain des Prés, shown at the Director's Fortnight (la Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) at the Cannes Film Festival, was a critical success but a box office flop and it was four years before Swaim was to direct his next feature, La Balance. The film was not only one of the biggest box offices successes in the history of French cinema but went on to change the face of the French "polar". Le Monde wrote, "Avec La Balance, Bob Swaim a réinventé le film policier." The film had 8 César nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Actor (Philippe Léotard), and Best Actress (Nathalie Baye).
The film became an international success and led to Swaim's first Hollywood contract. In 1985, Swaim wrote and directed Half Moon Street, adapted from Paul Theroux's award winning novel Doctor Slaughter. The film starred Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine, and introduced on the big screen, a young French actor, Vincent Lindon.
Swaim, now in Hollywood, signed a contract with MGM as a director, writer, and producer. There he developed several projects for MGM and directed Masquerade for the studio in 1988, starring Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly. Disenchanted with Hollywood and the studio system, Swaim returned to France where he set up a company to develop European projects for American producers.
In 1989, Swaim left for Rome where he spent two years writing and directing the French classic novel; L'Atlantide for the Italian producer Roberto Ciccuto. The 19th century adventure drama, shot in the legendary Studio 5 at Cinecittà in Rome and in the southern desert of Morocco, starred Tchéky Karyo, Jean Rochefort, Anna Galiena and the Oscar winning actor, Fernando Rey.
After the film, Swaim came back to Paris and for the next few years developed a ground-breaking television series for France Télévisions, Police-Secrets. The series, consisting of twelve 90-minute films, were one of the first realistic police dramas (polar) on French television. It set the tone and pace for the numerous French cop shows to come. Apart from writing and producing the series, Swaim also directed several 90 minute films for France Télévision and Canal+.
In 1997, Bob Swaim returned to the cinema, directing The Climb (1997–1998) starring John Hurt and David Strathairn. The film was one of Swaim's most critically acclaimed films, winning prizes in numerous festivals including the prestigious UNICEF Prize for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival.
Swaim then adapted Giovanni's Room, the American cult novel by James Baldwin for James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. Then in 2001, Gerard Mortier, director of the Salzburg Festival, asked Swaim to direct the Janáček opera, Jenůfa with Hildegard Behrens and Karita Mattila and Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting. The opera was the critical and popular success of the festival.
The following year, Swaim began working on his first comedy, Cheap Shot. The film went into production in 2003 and was released in the summer of 2004 under the name of Nos Amis les Flics. The film, starring Daniel Auteuil, Frédéric Diefenthal and Lorant Deutsch, won the Grand Prix du Festival de Saint Malo that year.
Aside from writing, directing and producing, Bob Swaim has acted in several films including John Landis' Spies Like Us, Caroline Huppert's J'ai Deux Amours, James Ivory's Soldiers' Daughters Never Cry, and most recently, Florence Quentin's Ole starring Gérard Depardieu and Gad Elmaleh.
In the 1990s, it became obvious to many in the French film industry that one of the industry's biggest problems was the lack of qualified screenwriters so in 1993, Swaim joined the Association Équinoxe, a screen writing workshop, founded by Jeanne Moreau. These workshops were designed to give an international profile and resonance to selected French and European projects, allowing them to reach a variety of audiences in a more direct way. Since 1993, there have been almost 8000 screenplays submitted and over 200 writers selected, 135 international advisers, and a record 65 films produced and released. In 2003, Swaim was elected to the Board of Directors of Équinoxe.
He has also been an adviser-consultant at the Performing Arts Lab for Screenwriters in Kent, England and, most recently, at the Australian Film Commission's workshop in Sydney. Additionally, he has been a guest lecturer at New York University and Columbia University. He has also taught acting at Andreas Voutsinas' Theatre des 50 "L'Atelier" and the VO/VF Acting School. Currently Bob Swaim is writing his next feature film, Pigalle-Barbès (provisional title) – a thriller that takes place in Paris during the French-Algerian War. He is also preparing a documentary for France Télévisions on the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists that took place in Paris in 1956 as part of the "Année des Cultures Francophones-2006".In 2007, he will return to the stage, to direct a "Blues Odyssey" at the Théâtre du Châtelet. This "blues opera" will be "un périple musical à travers la musique première de l'Amérique noire". – Sebastian Danchin