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Paul Harrill

Harrill on set, directing.

Paul Harrill is an associate professor and holds the Dee and Jim Haslam Professorship in the School of Art. He is the associate director of the Cinema Studies program.

A UT alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree through the College Scholars program, Harrill received his MFA in film and media arts at Temple University then served on the faculty at Virginia Tech. He’s been at UT since 2013.

Harrill teaches classes in cinema production with an emphasis on narrative and documentary storytelling.

Behind the camera

Harrill’s films have been shown on PBS and at prestigious venues like the Sundance Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art.

His debut feature film, Something, Anything, which was screened at film festivals around the world in 2014, was named a New York Times critics’ pick. Critics described the film as a work of simple, unforgettable beauty.

In 2001, Harrill’s short film Gina, An Actress, Age 29 won the Grand Jury Prize in short filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. His film Quick Feet, Soft Hands was a co-production with the Independent Television Service.

Harrill, second from left, as a UT student in Krakow, Poland, on a study abroad trip in 1994.

Why cinema production

“I like telling stories, and I like the work of making movies—it’s creative, it’s both introspective and collaborative, and I get to learn new things. I like teaching for a lot of the same reasons.”

Other endeavors

Back in 2004, Harrill and fellow UT employee Darren Hughes co-founded the Public Cinema to share contemporary international and American films—works that might otherwise be unseen or overlooked—for Knoxville audiences.

Advice to his college-age self

To be patient.

Outside interests

“Music, both listening to it and playing it. It is my big passion. I also love traveling and spending time outdoors—hiking, kayaking, and so on.”

Favorite movies

The Best Years of Our Lives, Ruggles of Red Gap, The Gleaners and I, Window Water Baby Moving, and A Woman Under the Influence. “They’re all very different films, but one thing they have in common is that they find beauty in the everyday.”

Favorite book

Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Harrill said the 1977 book on architecture, urban design, and community livability “helped me see the world around me in new ways.”

Dream dinner companions

Jazz musician John Coltrane, painter Jan Vermeer, and filmmaker Agnes Varda. Harrill adds, “They’re three of my favorite artists.

“Or just three friends of mine in different parts of the world that I’ve never been able to get in the same room.”

Still on his bucket list

“A lot,” Harrill said. For instance, he wants to travel to the Pacific Northwest and internationally to Japan and Scandinavia, and back to Wales and Scotland. “I’m not sure I could explain what attracts me to those places—just a something in my gut about landscape and a curiosity about the culture.”

Most people don’t know 

“After college, I was offered a job with the government to go undercover to investigate financial aid fraud.” Harrill said. “I turned the job down to go to film school.”

To unwind from the day

“I mostly listen to rock, soul, and jazz.”

If he didn’t do this

“Anything where I get to continue learning.”