Abamedia is an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in two areas: media production and archival media licensing. The company uses its unique US-Russia business platform to better access the global media market and clients that include leading cultural institutions, businesses, and media companies in the USA, Europe, and Asia. Since 1978, Abamediafounder J. Mitchell Johnson has produced award-winning documentary and feature-length dramatic productions for the global marketplace.
After completing graduate film studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Johnson began his professional career in Washington, DC working for four-time academy award winning director Charles Guggenheim as an assistant. After two years with Guggenheim, Johnson moved back to his native state of Texas and co-founded Fort Worth Productions, Inc. There he began working as an independent filmmaker focusing mostly on arts and cultural documentaries. His directorial debut was the 1977 Van Cliburn Piano Competition documentary
for PBS prime-time, Contest to Carnegie Hall. This award-winning piece ushered subsequent arts and cultural documentaries for both PBS and The Arts Channel (now A&E) including USA (now Sundance) Festival-winner, Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton.
In the second half of the 1980’s he founded J. Mitchell Johnson Productions, Inc.(JMJP), and put together a team of filmmakers that produced videos from a production base in Budapest, Hungary in collaboration with Eugene Fodor, the well-known founder of Fodor’s Travel Guides. The project was eventually sold to Random House in 1993.
In 1994 JMJP co-ventured with ABC News in New York a 22-part television series produced for the newly formed Russian TV network ORT. Soon after, with assistance from a group of partners, Johnson expanded JMJP’s activities by creating an independent media development partnership named Abamedia. During this period Johnson also produced a dramatic experimental feature film, World Without Waves, that won Santa Fe Film Festival’s Milagro Award and premiered at Moscow’s International Film Festival.
In parallel, the Abamedia team and a group of archivists and computer scientists started an online catalog project of Russia’s pre-eminent documentary film archive at Krasnogorsk, Russia. Five years later, Abamedia’s project evolved into RussianArchives.com (RAO) which features a database of 45,000 non-fiction films owned jointly between Abamedia and the Federal Archive Service of Russia. From this effort sprung Abamedia’s PBS Cold War television series, Red Files, which won the International Documentary Association’s “Best Limited Series” award in 2000.
Since that time, Johnson focused Abamedia on building its RAO on its archive licensing business while experimenting with new technologies aimed at alternate methods of monetizing archival resources. In 2009 Abamedia began a Soviet computing history project with the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. This led to new contacts with the emerging US-Russia information science and technology exchange industry. A by-product of the Soviet computing history project was a media project featuring the work of the MIT scientist Norbert Wiener, the so-called father of the science of cybernetics.
In 2010, Abamedia established a base in Rostov-on-Don, Russia while simultaneously focusing on media projects in and around San Francisco due to increasing demand for US-Russia cultural exchange. In addition to the Computer History Museum Soviet computing history project, Abamedia kicked-off the “Fort Ross Media Project.” Fort Ross, a California state historical site located 90 miles north of San Francisco, is a major touch-point for US-Russia diplomacy efforts.
Meanwhile, in parallel to the above media production activity, RAO’s licensing efforts began to expand. In 2015 RAO began work on a media archive initiative with the Chinese company, Shanghai Media Group based on a unique Soviet-era archival collection.
The Russia-San Francisco media activities led step-by-step to Abamedia’s current media slate of production work including the feature documentary, Saving North (2020 release). Two other major documentaries are also in production: Remaining Human: Becoming Norbert Wiener and Coming Round: The Kashia Pomo’s Struggle for Homeland.
Johnson is the past-President of the Lone Star Film Festival and serves on the board of San Francisco’s TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy where he also consults on and participates in media production efforts. Abamedia and Johnson also have produced four short films for the Fort Ross website in support of citizen diplomacy efforts. The most recent of these, Common Ground, premiered in San Francisco in October 2019 at the annual Fort Ross Dialogue event that featured the former governor of California, Jerry Brown.
In addition to J. Mitchell Johnson, the Abamedia team is fortunate to have long-term working relationships with a highly experienced and esteemed group of advisors, academics, consultants, and industry professionals who regularly participate in varying capacities on specific projects.
Next Generation Leadership, Strategy & Marketing – Philip L. Johnson is a co-founder and Chief Product Officer for the telemedicine company EnzymeHealth.com, responsible for the company’s product research, development and implementation as an IT-based platform. Before Enzyme, Philip served as the first product manager for marketing platform Main Street Hub (now a GoDaddy company), and after that head of product & growth for at-home lab testing company EverlyWell.com. In 2017, he started 90 Degrees South, a consulting company that provides strategic guidance on developing, growing and scaling winning B2B and B2C products.
Director of Photography, Co-Director and Co-Producer – Robert Elfstrom has earned a reputation for award-winning productions and cinematography. His impressive library of work has appeared on prime time television and the silver screen, including: NOVA: The Race for the Superconductor (Emmy Award winner); American Masters: Finding Lucy (Emmy—Best Documentary); NBC Prime Time Specials: Bill Gates (Tom Brokaw Special); Discovery Channel: Cathedrals of the Sky (astronomical telescopes); HBO: Paul Rodriguez: Live in San Quentin; Feature Films: Gospel Road (with Johnny Cash), Hi Mom (directed by Brian DePalma,
starring Robert DeNiro); Feature Documentaries: Gimme Shelter, The Running Fence, The Wrapped Islands (Maysles Films).
Consulting Producer – Dennis Bishop has a proven record of shepherding award-winning motion picture productions in various media, from the independent film The Trip to Bountiful to the Showtime pilot, Dexter, as well as when he served as Vice President of Production at HBO Pictures on films such as And The Band Played On. His success has not been confined to filmmaking but also while managing several companies in different industries. He has worked off and on with Mr. Johnson since 1982. He was a Resource Advisor for Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, served as Director and later Advisor of the Lone Star International Film
Festival, and was a co-founder of Earthx Film Festival, which is part of Earthx, the largest environmental organization in the USA, if not the world. As an educator, he has served as an Adjunct Professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts, guest lectured, and mentored for the Producers Guild and Directors Guild. In 2009, Dennis created the curriculum for the Associates Degree Program in Motion Picture Production at KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic where he served as Chair from 2009 to 2019. He is actively producing documentary films and consulting on feature films.
Senior Editor – Johnathan Sanders, Ph.D is one of the West’s leading experts on Russian film-based visual culture. He has written two books on the subject – 1917: The Unpublished Revolution (NY: Abbeville Press, 1989); and, with Hedi Hollinger, The Russians Emerge (NY: Abbeville Press, 2002. Sanders has worked extensively on television news programs, specials, and documentaries, including consulting on the website component of the award-winning Red Files series, produced by Abamedia for PBS. He spent a decade as a Moscow-based CBS news correspondent. He served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He is also a working still photographer: his pictures illustrate Richard Threlkeld’s book, Dispatches From the Former Evil Empire. He is currently Director of the project On the Russian Future, and a consultant on international broadcasting and media matters. An Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Dr. Sanders is currently a Professor of Journalism at the Stonybrook University School of Journalism, State University of New York.
Marketing and Development Consultant – Steven Leibman provides Abamedia with funding and distribution strategies. Mr. Leibman was previously Abamedia’s Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs; Vice President of Tom Schulman Productions at Touchstone Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures; Independent Media Consultant (e.g., Universal Studios); Independent Feature Film Development Consultant; Director of Marketing and Communications for The Los Angeles Theatre Center and Connecticut’s Hartford Ballet; and President and COO of The Thinking Cap Company, the pioneering, licensed genre movie merchandise firm, with properties including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alien, Bladerunner, and Star Trek, among others.
Consulting Producer – Gabor Beszterczey, Ph.D is an international journalist and producer of over 200 documentaries and series programs for Hungarian and international television, most recently as the western correspondent for Hungarian TV Channel 1. Dr. Beszterczey was the Producer/Director for over half of JMJP’s Fodor’s film projects, and served as International Producer both for JMJP’s Made in Russia commercials (for the Russian Channel CTC) and Yanks for Stalin (The History Channel). Currently he serves as a Senior Programme Management Officer for the United Nations in Kenya.
Media Industry Advisor – Bruce Maggin has been in the forefront of creating a succession of new businesses that have increased consumer entertainment and information alternatives. During his career, he has held senior management positions in virtually every segment of the media and communications industries. Mr. Maggin headed the ABC Multimedia Group, one of the five divisions of ABC, Inc. In that role he was responsible for centralizing and expanding ABC’s activities to address the impact of the digital world. Mr. Maggin has been a member of the Board of Directors of several companies including cable networks, Lifetime, and ESPN. A member of the New York State Bar, he received a BA degree from Lafayette College and JD and MBA degrees from Cornell University.
Advisory Partner, Program Development – John T. Healy has established a reputation as one of the broadcasting industry’s leading international executives. Under Mr. Healy’s guidance, Capital Cities/ABC created a series of important and lucrative relationships around the globe that positioned the company as the premier television distribution organization in the world. In 1979, Mr. Healy was instrumental in the creation and success of ABC’s cable ventures including Arts & Entertainment, Lifetime, and ESPN. Mr. Healy has also been a Director of the International Council, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Web Design and Programming – Charles Morpheus has provided freelance media design services for various clients over many years and has worked with Abamedia since 2005 on such projects as Abamedia’s home site, Abamedia’s feature film World Without Waves, Russian Archives Online, Norbert Wiener Media Project, Norbert Wiener Learning Center, and others. In addition, he has been a composer of electro-acoustic music and sound for 30+ years, including sound design for video and interactive training projects, live electronic performances and a multimedia ballet presentation at The Dallas Museum of Art.
A Tradition of Community Service
In tandem with his filmmaking projects, J. Mitchell Johnson has contributed to the community in a wide variety of positions by serving (past and present) in a variety of positions:
- Board Member of The Russian American Center, San Francisco, CA
- President, Lone Star Film Society and International Film Festival
- Culture Sub-Committee member of the US-Russia Joint Presidential Commission Washington-Moscow
- Chairman of the Media Panel for the Texas Committee for the Arts
- President, Texas Independent Producers Association
- Chairman, Education and Technology Panel, US-Russia Exchange Symposium of the U.S.
- Embassy in Moscow, Russia
- Board Member and City Committee Chairman, Fort Worth Sister Cities International
- Board member of the Mental Health Association of Tarrant County