Paul Wagner Bio
Paul Wagner is an Academy Award winning film writer, producer and director known for his successful collaborations with scholars, educators, artists and activists.
After completing a BA in English and linguistics and an MA in communications research design at the University of Kentucky, Wagner began his career as an instructional designer of adult learning programs at Kentucky Educational Television and the Oregon Division of Continuing Education.
Following further graduate studies in systems science at Portland State University and ethnographic film at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, he embarked on a career in documentary filmmaking.
His early projects were collaborations with scholars and curators at the Smithsonian Institution, resulting in films about Italian stone carvers, Pullman porters, old-time medicine show performers, fish criers, family traditions, the folklore of aging, exemplary programs of museum education, the life and work of anthropologist Victor Turner, southern pottery, the US Postal Service, and the “seeds of change” exchanged between the Old World and New World. The Stone Carvers won the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary, Miles of Smiles premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and Free Show Tonite won the Grand Prize at the National Educational Film Festival. All three were national broadcasts on PBS.
In the 1980s, Wagner studied acting with Joy Zinoman of the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC and began writing and directing for the stage. In the 1990s, this led to the creation of two short dramatic films with writer Ed McClanahan. In 1996, he collaborated with Tibetan activists on the political drama Windhorse, filmed secretly inside Tibet and Nepal. Windhorse, winner Best Feature and Best Director at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, was the first narrative film digitally shot and edited for theatrical release.
Films produced in the 1990s included the first documentary filmed inside the Alamo (for the Discovery Channel). The feature-length A Paralyzing Fear: the Story of Polio in America, won a national Emmy Award for Research. Out of Ireland, featuring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Gabriel Byrne and Kelly McGillis was selected for the documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Signature: George C. Wolfe was named Outstanding Public Television Program of the Year by the National Educational Television Association. All three were national broadcasts on PBS. Also, in the 2000s, Wagner produced a series of performance films and documentaries about subjects in Virginia entitled East of the Blue Ridge for local public television.
More recently, Wagner created a documentary about inner city religion with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, an Irish music performance program with WGBH and Thoroughbred, a documentary about horse racing for PBS, broadcast nationally in 2011. He also served as senior producer on a PBS series about the natural history of the Appalachian Mountains.
Wagner’s films have won many honors including film festival screenings at Sundance, Toronto, Rotterdam and Tokyo, several Emmy Awards and the Academy Award. His films have received numerous grants from the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. He has directed voiceovers with Liam Neeson, Ashley Judd, Gabriel Byrne, Hal Holbrook, Kelly McGillis, Aidan Quinn, Olympia Dukakis and John Grisham. Wagner taught film as an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, George Washington University, the University of Virginia and aboard Semester-at-Sea.
Before starting his career in film, Paul Wagner worked as a country music singer in Philadelphia.