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New film assistant professor brings unique experiences to class

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Born in Ireland and raised in Iran, Johnny McAllister is a fine arts professor in film. McAllister was just hired full time this year.
Photo by Victor Rodriguez| Staff Photographer

With experiences ranging from writing several award-winning short films to being in Lebanon when the Syrian civil war broke out, one new Texas State assistant professor has much to offer his students.

Johnny McAllister was hired as a full-time lecturerthis semester to teach film classes in the theater and dance department.

Though his parents are both Irish, McAllister was born in Iran and spent much of his childhood growing up in the Middle East. He spent most of his early years in a different school in a different country until he moved to Austin to study literature and film at the University of Texas.

Upon completing his undergraduate studies, McAllister moved to Poland to study with a filmmaker he greatly admired. In an unfortunate turn of events, his potential mentor died the week he arrived in the country. Not giving up on his dreams, McAllister found work in the film industry producing, screenwriting and directing throughout Ireland, Los Angeles and Texas. He then went on to complete his graduate degree in film at Colombia University.

Throughout his travels and jobs, McAllister had the opportunity to witness many things and meet many people but has seen commonalities in each experience no matter where he was.

“Everybody has a story to tell, and everyone, for the most part, wants to tell their story,” McAllister said. “Some places are more trusting and more open, less hesitant maybe, but the desire and the intent is often the same, a deeper desire to tell their story.”

McAllister said his greatest passion is to find worlds and characters who have their own strong voices but are not being heard or are being drowned out.

“I am passionate about hearing those voices, listening to those voices; I am passionate about building stories around those voices,” McAllister said.

After completing graduate school and moving around a bit, McAllister found himself back in Cairo, Egypt, as he had spent a few years living there in his early childhood. This time he was there with a group of friends to launch a news and documentary start-up company to allow young filmmakers a chance to tell their stories.

Coincidentally, the company launched the same week as the Arab Spring kicked off throughout the Middle East.

“Those years were very formative for me, to have witnessed that,” McAllister said. “We were trying to help them tell their stories about everyday life on the streets. Some of that included battles with the police or army, but I also remember working on a documentary on the graffiti of the streets of Cairo.”

After moving back to Austin to work on a friend’s film and meeting his wife, Annie Silverstein, McAllister decided to settle down and invest in the film community in Central Texas. Part of that meant building up the film program at Texas State as a vital part of a wider Texas filmmaking community.

“I also want to continue to tell stories; I want to tell stories that are rooted in Texas history as it evolves and changes,” McAllister said.

His current project embodies this goal and is a collaboration with his wife. He is the writer and executive producer and she is the director.

McAllistersaid black cowboys have always been a central part of Texas history, whether or not people have acknowledged it, and their film set in the black rodeo circuit is an attempt to tell their story.

Deb Alley, chair of the Department of Theater and Dance,said McAllister’s deep understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world and his openness to new opportunities was among the reasons she was thrilled he was brought on as a full-time lecturer.

“In a contemporary world, you need those things: someone who is able to think outside the box while still honoring the traditions that we have all lived by for a long time,” Alley said.

Although only having been here full-time for a few months, Alley said she has seen the impact McAllister has made on the department and on students interested in film.

Ryan Castañeda, theater performance and production senior, is taking his second film class with McAllister and said he has learned a vast array of practical skills from his courses.

“I like the way he works and how he has experience and he knows what he’s doing,” Castañeda said. “I feel like it was an easy choice to take him again.”

McAllister said he wants to be a part of his students’ love of learning and discovery, but more than anything hopes they internalize his final lecture of each semester.

“I always end the semester with a lecture over thee words: make it happen,” McAllister said. “You can’t go on and on in school and you can’t rely on the assignments. There are going to be troubles and obstacles and excuses for why something cannot happen, but in filmmaking, and I am sure in many other pursuits, you have to make your dreams happen.”

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