Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America

A new book about the history of American nonfiction filmmaking, from Thomas Edison to the "Post Truth" era of President Donald Trump, and the yet-to-be-explored realm of virtual reality. 

"Authoritative, accessible, and elegantly written, Screening Reality is the history of American documentary film we have been waiting for." --Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

"A towering achievement, and a volume I know I'll be consulting on a regular basis." -- Leonard Maltin

Enthralling . . . A valuable resource for cinephiles, this sweeping history will ignite a new enthusiasm for the form among readers less well-versed in the genre.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A many-faceted, dynamic, and thought-provoking history of nonfiction films in America . . . This monumental exploration reminds us that 'evidential truth' is essential to liberty and justice . . . Let the real be real; let truth ring true.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“An illuminating, encyclopedic history of nonfiction film . . . A capacious celebration of film's potential to show us the world.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Well-documented . . . Wilkman consistently cycles back to one important message: no matter how fuzzy the lines between fiction and fact, truth should be forefront in the minds of documentarians. Our supposedly posttruth era and the pitfalls and ease with which we augment reality are threads through the narrative . . . Wilkman makes a compelling case.” ―Library Journal

Fantastically well researched and written, Screening Reality raises the bar for anyone who wants to write about the history of documentaries and documentarians, with invaluable insights into today's truth-challenged times.” ―Peter Davis, Academy Award-winning director of HEARTS AND MINDS; author of GIRL OF MY DREAMS

Published by Bloomsbury Press on February 18, 2020.



An investigation of the events surrounding the prison uprising of 1971. Sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Ford Foundation, PBS (co-Producer/Director, JW)


Bad Guys & Wicked Women

(available on DVD)

One-hour documentary about legendary outlaws.  Hosted by Patrick O'Neal. HBO.


Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles

A documentary about the history of Chicano rock 'n' roll, from the legendary Lalo Guerrero to Ritchie Valens, Los Lobos and beyond, Underwritten in part by a grants from Latino Public Broadcasting, the California Council for the Humanities and the Skirball Foundation.  Winner of the 2009 Best Documentary at the Reel Rasquache Festival of the U.S. Latino Experience in Film and Art.

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The Black Soldier

A one-hour history of African-Americans in the American military.  Hosted by Bill Cosby, CBS (Writer, JW)


The Edison Effect

(available on DVD)

A three-part biography of Thomas Edison ("The Phonograph," "The Electric Light" and "The Motion Picture").  Produced in Association with Jaffe Productions for A&E and the History Channel.


Great Moments in Sports

A one-hour history of 20th Century sports, produced for Time-Life Video.


The Greatest Scandals of the Century

(available on DVD)

One-hour documentary, hosted by Patrick O'Neal.  HBO.


The Los Angeles History Project

(available on DVD)

Four half-hour documentaries about the history of Los Angeles: "First Impressions," "Ramona: A Story of Passion & Protest (Writer, NW)," "Harris Newmark's Los Angeles" and "Trouble in Angel City."  Hosted by Robert Stack, Carmen Zapata, Richard Widmark and Theodore Bikel.  Produced in Association with KCET.


Missing Persons: Dead or Alive

(available on DVD)

One-hour documentary of classic missing persons cases.  Hosted by Patrick O'Neal. HBO.


Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood

(available on DVD, April 2011)

A seven-part series chronicling the history of American movies from the 1890s to the near present, shown on Turner Classic Movies during 2010. www.tcm.com/shop


Museums of the Arroyo

(available on DVD)

Half-hour video documenting the history and collections of five museums on the Arroyo Seco between Los Angeles and Pasadena, California.  Produced for the Museums of the Arroyo.


The Port of Los Angeles: A History

(available on DVD)

A four-part history of America's busiest port, from 1542 to the present, based on more than 100 interviews and illustrated by rare film and photography.


Real Detectives: The Speck Case

(available on DVD)

Docudrama about the Richard Speck murder case.  Hosted by Broderick Crawford, HBO.


The Riordan Years

Three-part history of the administration of two term Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.


Southern California Snapshots

A look at the Southern California economy from 1949 to 1986.  Sponsored by McKinsey & Company


The St. Francis Dam Disaster

(documentary in development)

Produced as a companion to the new book Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, this ninety-minute documentary will include interviews with survivors, rare stills and footage, and 3-D computer graphics that recreate the collapse and aftermath.  Click here for a short preview.




(available on DVD)

One-hour documentary about famous spies.  Hosted by Patrick O'Neal.  HBO.


Ten Years of People Magazine

One-hour television special produced for HBO.



The story of creation of the transistor.  Sponsored by AT&T.


The Twentieth Century

Series of half-hour documentaries.  Hosted by Walter Cronkite, CBS (Staff Writer, JW)


Western Costume: Hollywood Dream Factory

Documentary about the oldest costume house in Hollywood.  Sponsored by Western Costume.



(available on DVD)

One-hour documentary about famous unsolved mysteries.  Hosted by Patrick O'Neal.  HBO.


The Year That Was

Three annual one-hour television specials, hosted by Dick Cavett.  Produced for HBO.


The Mysterious Howard Hughes

One-hour documentary, co-Produced for HBO


American Images

(available on DVD)

Half-hour documentary profiling the lives of three representative Americans, a cross-country truck driver, a ballet dancer and a country doctor.  Produced for the USIA.


Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles

The story of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster that took the lives of more than 400 people and ending the celebrated career of William Mulholland, the man who build the 1913 aqueduct that made modern Los Angeles possible. A 2016 Amazon Nonfiction Book of the Year and winner of the Historical Society of Southern California's Martin Ridge Award for the Best Book about California History after 1848.


Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America

 A book about the history of American documentary filmmaking.  Published by Bloomsbury Publishing (2020)


With Heart and Hand: The Restoration of the Gamble House

A 60-minute documentary about the painstaking three-year  effort to restore the exterior of the Gamble House in Pasadena, California.  Designed by architect brothers Charles and Henry  Greene, the 1908 home is considered one of the most important examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture.
Order from the Gamble House Bookstore.

* All programs produced, directed and written by Jon Wilkman unless otherwise indicated.