Paul Stekler, a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker known for his films about American politics, has been appointed chair of the Department of Radio-Television-Film.
The George Christian Centennial Professor in Communication, Stekler has taught documentary film production at The University of Texas at Austin since 1997. He becomes the first working filmmaker to head the prestigious department, which boasts highly ranked graduate programs in both film production and media studies. He succeeds interim chair Tom Schatz and Sharon Strover, who was department chair from 2003 until last year.
“Since joining the department as production area head, Paul has overseen large-scale revisions in both the graduate and undergraduate curricula, and has recruited working filmmakers to the faculty,” said Roderick P. Hart, dean of the College of Communication. “As a result, Radio-TV-Film production and screenwriting programs offers nearly 50 classes each semester to more than 1,000 students all taught by working narrative and documentary filmmakers and screenwriters with national credits.”
Stekler’s documentary credits 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,” which 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. He is in production on “Getting Back to Abnormal,” a film about New Orleans five years after Katrina.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have come to the Radio-TV-Film Department 14 years ago,” said Stekler, who’s also on the faculty of the UT Documentary Center. “We’ve got top-ranked programs in both production and media studies, accomplished, nationally known teachers, a diverse student body, and you do not have to be rich to be enrolled in it. Even better, we’re located in one of the best places to make or study media in the country — Austin, Texas.
“In the last few years, our graduates have won numerous awards and have a great track record being hired to teach in both studies and production programs at some of the most highly regarded universities and colleges in the country,” Stekler continued. “The chance to work with so many distinguished faculty colleagues and such a great group of students is truly an honor.”
Stekler, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Williams College in 1974 and a doctor’s degree from Harvard University in government in 1982, has written about Southern and African-American politics, worked as a political pollster in Louisiana and was instrumental in founding the LBJ School’s Center on Politics and Governance. Besides working with a number of local filmmakers on their documentary films (including Margaret Brown’s Townes Van Zandt bio film “Be Here to Love Me,” Karen Skloss’ “Sunshine,” and Keith Maitland’s “The Eyes of Me,” all nationally broadcast), he is on the advisory boards of the Austin Film Society and the South by Southwest Film Festival.
For more information, read a QandA with Stekler on the university’s Know Web site.