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Stekler’s Archives Reveal Intersection of Film and Politics

Professor Paul Stekler recently donated his film archives to the Briscoe Center for American History. He reflects on his long career documenting “American political anthropology.”

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Paul Stekler didn’t plan on becoming a documentary filmmaker. It was only after a circuitous journey through the worlds of academia, political consulting and the New Orleans music scene that he found his calling.

“I bumped into somebody, who introduced me to somebody and I made up the idea that I was going to be a filmmaker. I literally made it up,” he says. Thirty years later, Stekler shows no signs of slowing down.

This fall, The Briscoe Center for American History marked the acquisition of the Paul Stekler archives with an event that celebrated his decades of award-winning film documentary work by showing some of his favorite clips, followed by a discussion of his work. (Watch highlights from the event in the first video, below. The full event can be see at the bottom of this post.)

“Paul Stekler’s archive represents a unique visual documentation of American political anthropology over the last 30 years,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “The Briscoe Center actively seeks out the archives of documentarians and filmmakers. I have no doubt that, because of Paul’s stature in the film industry, his archive will encourage other filmmakers to do likewise.”

“It’s really great that the archive will be accessible at the Briscoe Center, a research resource that I’ve often used myself,” said Stekler, who chairs the Department of Radio-Television-Film. “I hope it’ll be a rich teaching tool for those who want to see both what we did right and what we did wrong.”

[Explore the filmmography of Paul Stekler]

A graduate of Harvard University, Stekler worked as a political pollster in Louisiana before he became a documentarian. His films have won two George Foster Peabody Awards, three Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Journalism Awards, three national Emmy Awards and a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Stekler is a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and chair of the Radio-Television-Film Department in the Moody College of Communication. He is also a member of the Austin Film Society’s advisory board.

“It’s an interesting experience, organizing and boxing 30 years of one’s filmmaking life,” Stekler said. “You discover a lot of things in the tapes and notes and do a lot of reflecting on the adventures that were part of making all of those films.”

Stekler’s archive includes raw footage and rough cuts from his documentary projects in a variety of formats. Additionally, researchers can access transcripts of interviews, cue sheets, scripts and footage logs, as well as letters and project research materials like books and news clippings. Collection highlights include correspondence with Bill Moyers and Molly Ivins and rare interviews with Karl Rove.

[Stekler named 2014 Mentor of the Year by Variety]

The Stekler archive joins the Briscoe Center’s other moving image collections that date from the 1930s. The center’s political collections include the papers of more than 50 former and present members of Congress, 10 governors and 11 Texas House Speakers.