Stekler uses film to explain politics

A 7-year-old boy stood on the side of the street and asked passers-by if they would vote for Nixon or Kennedy in the presidential election and recorded the results in a notebook. Years later, Dr. Paul Stekler is still sharing his enthusiasm for politics.

The university partnered with the Salado Institute for the Humanities. “Reel Elections: Politics on Film,” was the lecture by Stekler, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and political scholar. The presentation took place in the Mayborn Campus Center Sept. 27.

“I try to make films which make both sides understandable,” Stekler said. “We don’t listen to the other side. My job as a political documentarian is to try to figure out how to cut through this.”

Dr. Paul Stekler holds an award given to him as a thank you for speaking at the university. Photo by Seth Stephens/The Bells.

Stekler mixed stories with extended clips from several of his films to help the audience understand not only politics, but what politicians have to go through as well.

His films relate the political process to viewers in a non-biased way.

“I’m trying to introduce you to the actual process,” Stekler said. “What I’m trying to do as a filmmaker is humanize the process.”

Stekler found political filmmaking an outlet for his admitted obsession with politics. He believes that a candidate’s life story plays a crucial part in their election; and films allow him to tell politicians’ stories.

“I love making films, and I thought that was much better in terms of telling stories about candidates,” Stekler said, “so that even if I disagree with someone politically, I understand them as a human being.”

As a storyteller, Stekler said his job is not to choose sides, but to reach as many people as possible.

With his films, he tries to break the political barriers that have grown over time between Democrats and Republicans.

“The conundrum of our political system is that sometimes good and bad exist at the same time,” Stekler said. “And I think that we tend to in our politics today demonize the opposition when the opposition and yourself both have a lot of black and white.”

Throughout Stekler’s 30 years of filmmaking, his movies have won many awards, including two George Foster Peabody Awards, three Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Journalism awards and three Emmy awards.

Stekler is a professor at the University of Texas and is chair of the Radio-Television-Film Department. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.

This latest presentation was the fourth collaboration between the university and the Institute for the Humanities at Salado.

“We’ve had a long association a happy association with UMHB,” Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Salado, Sara Mackie Shull, said. “We really care a lot about having students and educators, teachers, administrators come.”

Author: Seth Stephens

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