Jack Willis is a journalist, award-winning documentary filmmaker, television producer and executive. His documentaries on race, poverty and other major social issues have been widely distributed in America and Europe and won many awards including seven Emmys, the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism and the First Amendment Award.
His first film, The Streets of Greenwood (1963) was about voting rights in Mississippi and won the Gold Medal at the San Francisco Film Festival. Two years later, Lay My Burden Down, dealt with the effects of two-hundred years of slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Both films are still used to promote discussion about on-going issues of structural racism, poverty and white privilege.
His series The Inner Core: City Within a City, created for Wisconsin public television station WHA, was widely credited with helping achieve passage of Milwaukee’s 1967 Open Housing law. It won an Emmy for best local series.
Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang, an independently produced documentary with Saul Landau, investigated the government cover-up of the fatal effects of the Nevada nuclear bomb tests on military personnel and civilians living downwind of the test sites. If won an Emmy and the George Polk Award for investigative journalism.
He has been a producer and executive in commercial, cable and public television. He was Director of Programming and Production for PBS station WNET/13 (1971-’73); head of Programming and Production for CBS Cable, (1981-’83) where he developed a critically acclaimed performing arts channel; Director of Statue of Liberty Programming for Metro Media Producer’s Corp; President and CEO Twin Cities Public Television (1990-’97); Co-Founder and Sr. Vice President of Programming for Link TV, a non-profit satellite channel currently in over 50 million American homes; a Senior Fellow at George Soros’ Open Society Institute where he developed and directed a program on media policy.
Jack Willis has created and produced many award winning series including the Emmy-award winning news show The 51st State for WNET/13. He was Co-Executive Producer of PBS’ groundbreaking, Emmy-award series The Great American Dream Machine (1971).
He has produced films for CBS News as well as The Human Animal series with Phil Donahue for NBC.
Two of his films, Lay My Burden Down (1966), and Every Seventh Child (1967), about Catholic education, were shown at the New York Film Festival.
His film, Appalachia: Rich Land Poor People (1968) exposed “the devastating effects that the failure of both private enterprise and the welfare state have wreaked upon people.”(Louisville Courier Journal).
With his wife, Mary Pleshette Willis, he has written several highly rated network movies and co-authored the book But There Are Always Miracles.
He has a BA and LLB from UCLA and an Honorary Doctor of Law from Saint John’s University in Minnesota.