This month, Paul Stekler was appointed chair of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Mr. Stekler, who’s taught documentary film production at The University of Texas at Austin since 1997, becomes the first working filmmaker to head the prestigious department, which boasts highly ranked graduate programs in both film production and in media studies.
A critically honored filmmaker, Stekler’s documentaries on American politics and history include “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire,” winner of a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award; “Vote for Me: Politics in America,” winner of an Emmy, a duPont-Columbia Journalism Award and a Peabody Award; “Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style,” aired on PBS’s P.O.V. series in 2004, two of the “Eyes on the Prize” civil rights history films; and “The Choice,” PBS’s Frontline series film on the Obama-McCain election, which was seen by an audience of more than 10 million.
Stekler’s documentary students have won numerous honors including student academy awards (Ruth Fertig’s “Yizkor” in 2010 and Laura Dunn’s “Green” in 2001), have had their thesis films broadcast nationally on PBS’s Independent Lens series (Diane Zander-Mason’s “Girl Wrestler” in 2004 and Heather Courtney’s “Los Trabajadores” in 2003), won University Co-op/George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Awards for Academic Excellence (Lauren Banta in 2003, Jeremy Liebman in 2005 and Keeley Steenson in 2010), and have earned national attention for their film work (Ben Steinbauer’s “Winnebago Man” opened theatrically in New York City and Los Angeles this summer, and PJ Raval was the cinematographer on the Oscar-nominated “Trouble the Water”).
1. You studied government in college. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
When I was in graduate school for political science, a friend introduced me to Ricky Leacock, one of the father’s of American verite documentary filmmaking. Ironically, he showed me a film called “Crisis,” about George Wallace’s standing in the schoolhouse door in 1963, barring African American students from enrolling in the University of Alabama. I sat there stunned by the film. And years later, 22 years actually, I used some of that some footage in my film “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire”!
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