In the 1980s, Wagner directed documentary films for the Smithsonian Institution about old-time medicine shows, museum education, family traditions, fishmongers, Southern pottery, the U.S. Postal Service, the Columbian Quincentenary, and anthropological rituals around the world. He served as executive producer for films on the history of insane asylums and on the French novelist Marcel Proust, both broadcast nationally on PBS. He has co-authored two books, both companion volumes to his documentary films, Out of Ireland (1994, Roberts Rinehart Publishers) and A Paralyzing Fear: the Triumph Over Polio in America (1998, TV Books).
Paul Wagner has been awarded many grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the D.C. Humanities Council, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Media Fellowship Programs. In addition to the Oscar and the Emmy, his films have won many regional Emmy Awards, CINE Golden Eagles, the Irish Silver Harp Award, Blue and Red Ribbons from the American Film Festival and the Grand Prize from the National Educational Film Festival.
Wagner studied acting and directing for the theater with Joy Zinoman of the Studio Theatre in Washington. He adapted and directed Falling Stars (1989, Source Theatre, Washington, D.C.), wrote Daddy’s Guitar (1992, Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke, Virginia), and conceived and produced The Pearl (1990, Source Theatre). In the 1970s, Wagner performed as a country singer in nightclubs in Philadelphia, PA.
Currently, Wagner serves as an advisor to two Charlottesville, Virginia arts organizations: Live Arts, a performing arts center, and Light House, a video production workshop for young people. His awards include the National Tay-Sachs association Service Award, the Washington, D.C. Mayor's Award as “Outstanding Emerging Artist,” and a citation as one of the “Top 100 Irish Americans.” His degrees, a BA in English and an MA in Communications, are from the University of Kentucky. He studied visual anthropology on a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania and general systems theory at Portland (Oregon) State University.
Paul and Ellen Casey Wagner, his wife and filmmaking partner, are based in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they produce under the banners of two organizations. Paul Wagner Productions, Inc. is a production company founded by Paul in 1982. American Focus, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit corporation created by Ellen and Paul in 1989 to create independent film and video.