Belton, TX – On Thursday, September 27, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and the Institute for the Humanities at Salado cohosted a lecture by Dr. Paul Stekler, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and political scholar. More than 200 people were in attendance for the presentation, which was titled Reel Elections: Politics on Film.
Throughout his lecture, Stekler shared clips from a selection of his films. Each clip highlighted a different aspect of the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes life of American politicians.
“I love making the films. I love going out there and finding characters, and telling stories about candidates, consultants, partisans, and just plain people in the way that they relate to politics,” Stekler said.
One of the characters Stekler captured on film was Vincent Albert “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., who appeared in Stekler’s documentary Vote for Me: Politics in America. Cianci served two stints as the mayor of Providence. In total he spent more than 21 years in the office, but his legacy was marred by the fact that each of his periods as mayor ended with felony convictions.
“I think that the reason I’m attracted to making these kinds of films is that, in all candor, I like Buddy. He was actually a very good mayor of Providence. He was just a little corrupt,” Stekler said. “That’s part of the conundrum of our political system is that sometimes good and bad exist at the same time. We tend to demonize the opposition when, in reality things are a lot more complicated and gray than just black and white.”
Other clips in Stekler’s presentation explored everything from the wheeling and dealing involved in presenting a bill before the Texas Senate to the strain that constant fundraising puts on even small-town politicians.
“What I’m trying to do as a filmmaker is to humanize the process so that even if I disagree with somebody politically, I understand them as a human being,” Stekler said. “I want to get you to understand what it is like to run for office and the stress of being a candidate.”
Stekler is Chair of the Radio-Television-Film Department and the Director of Research for the new Center for Politics and Governance, within the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. 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. He is currently working on a film chronicling the state of things in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.