Founder Profile

J. Mitchell Johnson, Abamedia Founder, President and CEO

As a producer, director, writer and consultant on international media projects,  J. Mitchell Johnson has been responsible for creating high-quality film and video programming, broadcast on major networks worldwide. Winning numerous top producing and directing awards at US and European film festivals, his career is highlighted by ground-breaking work and alliances forged with the Russian television and film industry and their film, photo, television and radio repositories. In addition, Johnson is the driving and creative force behind Abamedia’s independent film, new media, ancillary products, archival image distribution, and proprietary, media sharing innovations.

“We have all witnessed a vast, fast-moving and transformational wave of technological and cultural change redefine the media industry in recent years. Despite the fact that Internet media distribution solves one of the biggest historical challenges facing independent filmmakers, it is also true that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The audience demands and appreciates, high-caliber storytelling that reflects the best of our culture’s historical and cultural achievement. At the same time, Internet media based media business models don’t fully satisfy. Thus there remains the need to transform old models and make them new. Abamedia’s goal has always been to search for and hopefully discover emerging borders between old and new media, and to fully engage and participate in this paradoxical new world of technological potential and media business models. The emphasis on creating quality projects remains at the heart of the Abamedia mission.”  

-- J. Mitchell Johnson

Johnson received a Masters degree in Cinema from the University of Southern California (USC), where he developed a keen interest in education and documentaries working at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications. After several years under the mentorship of the legendary documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, in Washington, D.C., Johnson returned to Texas to found Fort Worth Productions, which became well-known in the field of fine arts documentaries for A&E and PBS prime-time presentations. 1981 saw the founding of both J. MItchell Johnson Productions Inc. and Abamedia LP.

In 1986, he acquired the moving image license to Fodors, the premier name in travel, and founded TravelWorld Video, LP to finance, produce, and market cultural documentaries for travelers. After producing fourteen Fodor’s films that were distributed for TV and home video sales throughout the world, the Fodor’s project was sold to Random House and Johnson turned his attentions to new horizons.

Through a USAID Internews grant, in 1997, Johnson formed the Archive Media Project, L.P. with leaders in the Russian film and scientific community, to provide international access to the formerly closed image archives of the Russian Republic. This resulted in the public-private initiative, RussianArchives.com (RAO) that highlights images from the Russian State Film and Photo Archives at Krasnogorsk, as well as other Russian-based image archives. Archive projects have included development of the RAO website itself, the digital catalogue of 45,000 films from Soviet times, and the creation of an international image licensing system which allows expedited access to rarely seen or heard audiovisual materials. Fifteen years after its inception, RAO is the leading English language Web site serving producers, educators and others interested in Soviet-era motion picture and photo images.

Abamedia’s unique access to these Russian archival gems helped further elevate the company’s reputation in the television industry. Two of the immediate outcomes were the production of the critically acclaimed four-part series, Red Files, produced for prime-time PBS and distributed worldwide by Buena Vista Television and Home Video, as well as Yanks for Stalin, produced for The History Channel. Red Files won the "Best Limited Series" award from the Los Angeles-based International Documentary Association (IDA). The Red Files PBS website — created by Abamedia and Austin, Texas-based advertising agency GSD&M —remains an accessible resource with extensive images, interview transcripts and educational concepts. In addition, Abamedia orchestrated and oversaw the creation and publication of a companion book, by acclaimed writer George Feiffer, entitled Red Files: Secrets from the Russian Archives; published by TV Books. 

Abamedia’s first venture in the independent, feature film market, World Without Waves (2004), was written and directed by Johnson. World Without Waves debuted as an Official Selection at the Moscow International Festival, and went on to win “Best Southwest Film” at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

When not traveling, J. Mitchell Johnson lives in Rostov-on-Don, Russia with his wife, Svetlana, and his two step-children, Dasha (25) and Artum (12). Johnson’s son, Phillip (26), is based in Austin, Texas.