The Simple Life
Local filmmaker J. Mitchell Johnson sees the next phase
of a far-flung career.
Even though he grew up 150 miles down Highway 377, pretty far out in the country, J. Mitchell Johnson considers himself a Fort Worth guy. "Our place was right on the highway," said the well- traveled filmmaker, whose impressive head of gray hair belies his youthful energy.
Johnson's currently looking for a distribution deal for his film World Without Waves, which won the prize for best Southwest film at last month's Santa Fe Film Festival. It's about a New York tv producer (Will Foster Stewart) who moves to rural Texas after developing an allergic reaction to electricity -and presumably modern life -and falls in love with a troubled actress {Tara Bast) who's also a refugee from the Big Apple. John- son conceived the project long ago as a portrait of his sister Kathleen Dabney, to whom it's dedicated. The script had bogged down until he had a creative breakthrough while working in Greece in the early 1990s. "I used to feel 'less than' because I stayed in Fort Worth and never made it in New York or L.A.," he said. "But I realized a few years ago that I'm pretty happy here, that I've accomplished quite a bit. And then r thought, who is this guy I thought I wanted to be? I wound up writ- ing him into the script."
Greece is but one of many places that his work has taken him. The graduate of university of Texas and USC film schools established his reputation as a documentarian specializing i~ the arts by filming the 1981 Van Clibum Piano Competition. The next year, he traveled to Hungary to shoot a biography of the late pianist and TCU professor Lili Kraus, and the country became his base of operations throughout the late '80s and early '90s. "I met the best [directors of photography], hair and makeup people, and production guys over there," he said about his crews. Indeed, many Hungarian crew members wound up working on the set of World Without Waves
What did the longtime documentarian learn from shooting his first fiction film? "I was always cynical about all those names on Hollywood films," he said. "I learned that they're all necessary, especially in postproduction. I wish I'd had a bigger team. All those details take an eternity when you're doing it by yourself."
Johnson has a few properties in the writing stages, including adaptations of Bill Brett's Texas story Tale of the Big Thicket and Alain Polcz' Hungarian World War II drama Woman on the Front. For the moment, however, he's busy commuting to Russia -he was there a couple of weeks ago and plans to go back in a week or so. He first visited the country in 1992 while working with ABC to produce a series of films about America for Russian tv. Now he travels there regularly as the founder of the Russian Archives, an organization devoted to making the film archives of the old Soviet Union available to the world for education and research purposes. Describing the plugged-in cosmopolitan outlook of contemporary Moscow, he said, "It's the most exciting place I've ever been." And a good fit, as it turns out, for a vagabond Texan.
You can reach Krlsttan Un at
Fort Worth Weekly 1-05-2005