Department of English

Jack London: Twentieth-Century Man

A documentary film by Chris Million

Free and Open to the Public

When: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 p.m.

Where: Lumina Theater, Fisher Center

Jack London: Twentieth-Century Man is a feature-length documentary film examining the life and legacy of writer Jack London. Born into illegitimacy and poverty, largely self-educated, London fictionalized his personal adventures into classic tales like The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf, Martin Eden, and “To Build a Fire,” becoming America’s highest paid writer in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Though London is often identified today with dog stories set in the frozen Yukon, he actually wrote about a wide variety of subjects. Many of the topics London addressed—racism, homelessness, class divides, alcoholism, domestic violence, globalism, evolution, war, and censorship—are still highly relevant today, and the changing racial, social and cultural attitudes in pre-World War I America can be traced through his work. London’s work bridged the Victorian and Progressive Eras and prepared reading audiences for the advent of modernism, influencing writers like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Kerouac and Mailer, among others. Using London’s own voice, Jack London: Twentieth-Century Man will expose audiences to the full scope of London’s work beyond his familiar Klondike tales: his sports journalism, war correspondence, and other non-fiction, as well as his lesser-known South Pacific stories that are striking studies of race, class, and the effects of colonialism. The film also details the previously untold story of London’s parallel careers as a pioneering photographer, political figure, organic farmer, and groundbreaking producer in the early days of silent cinema.

Drawing upon his own journey from common sailor to captain, laborer to landowner, and hobo to millionaire, London also became the nation’s first media celebrity. His round-the-world sailing trip on a self-designed boat in 1907 became worldwide news; he reported from far-flung corners of the globe with gripping eyewitness journalism; he did numerous product endorsements, and his books and movies displayed his name­ above the title. London seized upon the cultural changes sweeping early twentieth-century America—specifically the advent of mass-market magazines and movies—to create a unique personal “brand,” a century before the practice was commonplace.

Jack London: Twentieth-Century Man offers a fresh look at the complex, contradictory genius who remains one of America’s most popular, yet least understood authors and cultural icons.


Chris Million is a San Francisco Bay-area producer, writer, director, and cinematographer, whose work has appeared in several nationally broadcast PBS series like Silicon Valley Report, Malone, and Real Science. He was Cinematographer for The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (2017), which premiered at the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the Documentary Audience Award. The film is currently in theaters and is coming to PBS in 2018. He was the Director of Photography for To Be Takei (2014), which premiered in 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival before a successful run in theaters and on cable TV. And in 2013 he co-produced and shot The Rugby Player, which had a multi-award winning worldwide festival run and PBS broadcast. Among his many other awards are Northern California Emmys for work on Return to the Valley (PBS) and Real Science! (PBS).