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.


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.


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.



A Bridge Between Two Ports

A video documenting the history and operation of a 1908  bascule bridge, one of the last of its kind in America.  Sponsored by the Port of Los Angeles.


The DRI Driving Simulator

A video explaining the operation and use of a computer controlled driving simulator.  Sponsored by Dynamic Research, Inc.


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.


Pier 400

2-part video documenting the construction of Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles, the world's largest container facility.  Sponsored by the prime contractor, Sully-Miller Contracting.



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


The 21st Century

Documentary series about advanced technology.  Hosted by Walter Cronkite.  CBS (Staff Director/Writer, JW)



What About Tomorrow?

Two documentaries: "Artificial Intelligence" and "Environmental Crisis."  As part of the ABC series produced in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


What If . . .?

A documentary on the technical issues needed to be resolved to send the first man to the moon.  Sponsored by the Bell Telephone Laboratories.

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