Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America

Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America

by Jon Wilkman


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“A towering achievement, and a volume I know I’ll be consulting on a regular basis.”—Leonard Maltin

"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

From Edison to IMAX, Ken Burns to virtual environments, the first comprehensive history of American documentary film and the remarkable men and women who changed the way we view the world.

Amidst claims of a new “post-truth” era, documentary filmmaking has experienced a golden age. Today, more documentaries are made and widely viewed than ever before, illuminating our increasingly fraught relationship with what’s true in politics and culture. For most of our history, Americans have depended on motion pictures to bring the realities of the world into view. And yet the richly complex, ever-evolving relationship between nonfiction movies and American history is virtually unexplored.

Screening Reality is a widescreen view of how American “truth” has been discovered, defined, projected, televised, and streamed during more than one hundred years of dramatic change, through World Wars I and II, the dawn of mass media, the social and political turmoil of the sixties and seventies, and the communications revolution that led to a twenty-first century of empowered yet divided Americans.

In the telling, professional filmmaker Jon Wilkman draws on his own experience, as well as the stories of inventors, adventurers, journalists, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists who framed and filtered the world to inform, persuade, awe, and entertain. Interweaving American and motion picture history, and an inquiry into the nature of truth on screen, Screening Reality is essential and fascinating reading for anyone looking to expand an understanding of the American experience and today’s truth-challenged times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635571035
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 348,095
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Jon Wilkman is an author and award-winning filmmaker whose work has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, HBO and A&E. His seven-part Turner Classic Movies series, Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, was nominated for three Emmys. His previous book, Floodpath, was an Amazon Nonfiction Book of the Year. A founding member and three-term president of the International Documentary Association, Wilkman lives in Los Angeles.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Facing the Facts 1

1 The World on a Screen 13

2 Reality Under Fire and Projected Americanism 32

3 Bijou Safaris and Truthful Lies 47

4 Rebels, Government Agents, and Reenactors 73

5 War, Peace, and Propaganda, Take Two 107

6 Fun Facts, Gawking Mother Nature, Molding Minds, and Homemade History 144

7 Small Screens, Big Stories 178

8 Zooming In 210

9 For the People, by the People 247

10 Three Windows, One Landscape 277

11 Additional Takes 311

12 60 Minutes, Mock and Mega Truth, the Multiverse, and Life through the Looking Glass 352

13 Getting Real in a Golden Age 391

Epilogue: Virtual Reality and Then What? 431

Acknowledgments 447

Notes 449

Selected Bibliography 469

Index 485

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