It’s hard to imagine how the sprawling, ambitious IMAX documentaries of today could be descendants of films like the silent and largely staged documentary “Nanook of the North,” released nearly one hundred years ago.
In a new book on American documentary film, author Jon Wilkman explores how the form radically formed and evolved over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries into its widely popularized, politically salient contemporary state. “Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America” traces more than a century of change, from prototypical documentaries to the use of film in both World Wars, on to today’s multifaceted documentary styles that have helped propel technological change. Wilkman writes about the inventors, journalists, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists that historically helped to hone documentary’s potential as a source for subjective American truth-telling. He also discusses the unsteady relationship that documentary has with fact and fiction, and how documentary can be used as a form of persuasion even when (and often because) it appears to depict objective truth.
Today on AirTalk, we sit down with Jon Wilkman to discuss his new book and the history of documentary filmmaking in the United States.
Jon Wilkman, writer, director and producer for both film and television. He is the author of the book “Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America” (Bloomsbury Publishing)