Jon Wilkman
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Jon Wilkman and AFA's Geoff Alexander , May 20, 2004

Jon Wilkman passed away on November 30, 2022.

Jon Wilkman presented four of his films in person at the Academic Film Archive of North America’s cine 16 event on May 20, 2004. In the academic film world, filmmaker and author Wilkman is best-known for the eight-part “United States Geography” series distributed by McGraw-Hill in 1976, fascinating documentaries chronicling the people, industry, and economy of eight regions in the U.S. In the film Middle Atlantic Region, for example, he examines the people, industry, economy and landscape of the Middle Atlantic region of the United States. An ethnically and gender-diverse group of individuals share stories told in their own words, including a TV reporter, truck driver, classical pianist, ad exec, welfare mother, paramedic, and sanitation manager.

Born in Boston on August 26, 1942, Wilkman’s extensive career in film began in New York with the CBS News documentary unit. During his seven years at CBS, he worked with Walter Cronkite on the "Twentieth Century" and "21st Century" series, as well as the "Of Black America" six-part historical documentary special. Other television projects included writing, directing and producing the WCBS "Eye on New York" series, and the documentary Countdown to a Contract. During this time, he wrote the book, Black Americans: From Colonial Days to the Present (as Jon Kirk Wilkman, 2008).

In 1971, Jon formed Wilkman Productions, Inc. For PBS he worked as a program producer on the "Great American Dream Machine" series and was the Producer/Director of the 90-minute American Bar Association/WNET documentary on the prison revolt in the state of New York, Attica: The Official Report of the New York State Special Commission on Attica. He also wrote, produced and directed the "What About Tomorrow?" series for ABC; "United States Geography” (originally entitled “Voices of America"), Transistor, documenting the history of the transistor for AT&T; and American Images documenting a cross-country truck driver, ballet dancer, and a country doctor, for the United States Information Agency.

Returning to his hometown, Los Angeles, in 1978, Jon continued work for television and commercial clients. He was producer, director, writer on seven HBO specials, including Whodunit?, Scandals, Superspies and Real Detectives, among others, as well as two public television series, "Turning Points" and "The Los Angeles History Project," developed in association with KCET.

With a special interest in history, Wilkman produced, directed and wrote a three-hour biography of Thomas Edison (The Edison Effect) produced 2010 for the History Channel and A&E. Other history-based documentaries and television specials include a seven-hour series for Turner Classic Movies entitled "Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood," the PBS documentary, Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles, a four-part PBS series made in 2008, "The Port of Los Angeles: A History," and the documentaries With Heart and Hand: The Restoration of the Gamble House, and At Issue: Immigration.

Jon was co-author of two books with his late wife Nancy: Picturing Los Angeles (2006) and Los Angeles: A Pictorial Celebration (2008). On his own, he wrote Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, an Amazon Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2016  Wilkman’s latest book, published in 2020, is Screening Reality: How Documentary Filmmakers Reimagined America

In addition to an active career as a nonfiction producer, director and writer, Wilkman lectured on film history and the production of documentaries at Fordham University, taught nonfiction writing at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and classes about the history of Los Angeles for UCLA Extension. As part of his interest and involvement in local history, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society of Southern California, founded in 1883. Jon was a three-term president of the International Documentary Association, during which he founded the First International Documentary Congress in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Academic Filmography (all 1976)

- Agricultural Midwest
- Manufacturing Midwest
- Middle Atlantic Region
- New England
- Pacific Northwest
- South Atlantic Region
- South Central Region
- Southwest

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