Jon Else is best known for The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb (1980), Cadillac Desert : Water and the Transformation Of Nature (1997), Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle (2000), and Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic (2008). He was series producer and cinematographer for Henry Hampton’s legendary Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1987). Else produced, directed, and photographed Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1989, re-released 2011) for the Sundance Institute, A Job at Ford’s for Hampton’s PBS series The Great Depression (1992), Palace of Delights: the Exploratorium for NOVA, and Open Outcry (2001), a PBS film about commodities traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
He shot and directed Inside Guantanamo with Bonni Cohen and executive produced “The Island President” a independent feature about Mohamed Nasheed, president of The Maldives, for Actual Films. Else executive produced 2017 Sundance winner “The Force,” directed by Peter Nicks, produced by Linda Davis.
Else served as cinematographer on hundreds of documentaries for The BBC, PBS, ABC, MTV, Arte, and HBO, and NetFlix, including the BBC/PBS History Of Rock And Roll Who Are The DeBolts (Academy Award 1976), the Paramount/MTV feature documentary Tupac: Resurrection, Alice Waters, Afghanistan: Hell of a Nation, NOVA’s Fire Wars, several independent feature films, as well as dozens of commercials and music videos. He shot Food Inc, and Last Call At the Oasis, both for Participant Media, John Adams Road Movies for Arte, and most recently Alex Gibney and Michael Pollan’s Cooked for Netflix.
He is the author of “True South: Henry Hampton and ‘Eyes On The Prize,’” published by Viking in 2017, and is currently producing a documentary about the California Gold Rush.
He was born in Worcester, Mass., raised in Sacramento, California, and studied two years at Yale before leaving to work in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Alabama 1964-1965. He served on the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee and then with the War On Poverty Sacramento. Else received his B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968, and M.A. in Communication from Stanford University in 1974.
He was director of the documentary program at the Graduate School Of Journalism at U. C. Berkeley, and from 1997 to 2014. Else is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (1988 to 1993), and has won four National Emmys (for writing, producing, directing, and cinematography), several Columbia-DuPonts and Peabody Awards, as well as several Academy Award nominations, the Prix Italia, and the Sundance Special Jury Prize, and Sundance Filmmaker’s Trophy.