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Alumni Focus: Kevin Quinn

Film & Video '18

Director, The American Wake

Westphal alum Kevin Quinn with cast & crew of the American Wake at the Galway Film Fleadh

Westphal alum and director Kevin Quinn with Irish cast and crew of The American Wake at the Galway Film Fleadh, one of Ireland's most prestigious international film festivals.


September 10, 2018

Recent graduate Kevin Quinn (Film & Video '18) studied abroad at the National University of Ireland in Galway, and had the chance to meet up with members of his family during his stay. Looking over old pictures and memories shared by his aunts and uncles, he was inspired to write the script for The American Wake, which would become his senior thesis film. It’s the story of 18-year old Honora Parsons, who faces a life-altering decision when she’s offered the chance to immigrate to the United States. Kevin and a crew of Drexel students went back to Ireland to shoot the film, and soon enough Kevin found himself on Irish soil once more. This time, The American Wake was no longer just a senior project, but an official selection in one of Ireland’s most prestigious international film festivals.

Kevin spoke to Westphal College's Communications Coordinator Laurel Hostak about his experience premiering The American Wake at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Was there a point during the production process that you knew The American Wake had a shot at the festival circuit? How did your peers, faculty, and family encourage or support you taking that leap?

We had finished filming a very emotional scene in which Nora, played by Emer Sexton, was challenging her father Eddie, played by Gerry Grimes, to display any kind of love or affection for her, since this would be her final night at home in Ireland before she immigrated to America. Their onscreen chemistry was palpable and if ever I questioned whether all of this was worth it, all I had to do was watch frame and bask in these performances. Just heartbreaking. After collecting themselves, Gerry approached me, laid his hand on my shoulder and declared, “I’ve booked my accommodation for the [Galway Film] Fleadh, Kevin. Fingers and toes.” After that, getting accepted into the Fleadh seemed more possible for me than ever. I had friends of mine who helped me find the confidence in myself to make this film. They went on to serve the film in leading positions and will have fine careers. Then again, when I pitched the idea over a year ago, I did feel as though there was a contingent of my peers who couldn’t get their heads around the scale and ambition which the project required. That was disappointing, but it offered some clarity for me because I realized that I had to work that much harder in order to ensure that the film would get made, and it was. 


Tell me about the process of submission and selection for the Fleadh. What about The American Wake made it the right fit for this festival?

If we were going to go to the ends of the earth to shoot this film, I knew I had to go even further to make sure it would get seen and noticed. I researched venues online and read about countless film festivals, their requirements and their missions. It became clear to me that the Galway Film Fleadh was our target festival. We shot the film entirely on-location on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands located off the West coast of Ireland, right in Galway City’s backyard. Since the film’s inception, I held the firm belief that if we were going to attempt to capture this very specific and sensitive history, there was no option save returning to Ireland to tell this story in the land it was set in. Our American unit was comprised of a handful of young, intrepid and wickedly smart filmmakers who were bonkers enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean to tell a quiet, yet epic story about this family’s trauma. For one week, we devoted our lives to telling these peoples’ story. Everything you see is real.


What was it like watching your film among a festival audience? How was it received?

I went in feeling very unprepared and nervous. I told my sister, “What if it doesn’t play?” She scolded me, and rightly so. I just couldn’t get my head around the film playing here, right across the River Corrib from NUI Galway where I had decided to make The American Wake close to three years ago. Everything had come full circle in such a beautiful way. I couldn’t catch up with it all… Until the quote by J.M. Synge appeared on the screen and I could feel the rumble of the Atlantic fill the seats. Once Bungowla filled the frame, I could feel the reality of what we’d accomplished. It was an experience I’ll never forget, truly. 


Beyond your premiere, were you able to make it to more screenings? Meet people, make interesting connections? How will you bring this experience back to the US?

The Galway Film Fleadh is a massive festival. It is deceivingly prestigious because everything from the venues to the way people dress is very casual. It’s not until you step into the theater when you really get a sense of how high the quality of the films are that the Fleadh takes on a deeper significance. We saw a screening of my favorite film in the festival, Styx (2018) by Wolfgang Fischer, who was present. We also got to see Gutland (2017) with Vicky Krieps from Phantom Thread (2017). I was able to meet a lot of very down-to-earth Irish and international filmmakers as well as reunite with my amazing cast and crew, who are all kind of like family to me now.


What’s next for The American Wake? Do you plan to continue developing or submitting the project, or do you have new projects cooking?

I’ve been taking time to expand the audience for The American Wake. The film screened at the Palena and Social Machinery Film Festivals in Italy this month and I am very proud to announce that The American Wake will be available on Aer Lingus (Ireland’s airline) beginning October 18th of this year. Currently, I am developing the feature-length script for The American Wake. I feel as though these characters’ stories are far from over and a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about them. I am eager to continue unearthing new possibilities and expanding this narrative. For me, this is only the beginning.

To learn more about the project and see a clip from The American Wake, visit our Creative Work.