Joe Berlinger

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Joe Berlinger
Berlinger ITD Promise Shoot.jpg
Born (1961-10-30) October 30, 1961 (age 57)
OccupationDocumentary filmmaker
Years active1989–present
Spouse(s)Loren Eiferman

Joseph Berlinger (born October 30, 1961) is an American filmmaker and producer. Particularly focused on true crime documentaries, Berlinger's films and docu-series draw attention to social justice issues in the US and abroad in such films as Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills , Crude , Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger and Intent To Destroy: Death, Denial and Depiction . A 2017 HuffPost article said "Brother's Keeper (1992) and the Paradise Lost trilogy (1996–2011) helped pioneer the style of documentary filmmaking [seen] in Netflix's recent true crime sensation, Making a Murderer—a combination of artful cinematography, a stirring musical soundtrack, and a dramatic narrative structure as compelling as any scripted film." [1]

True crime is a non-fiction literary and film genre in which the author examines an actual crime and details the actions of real people.

Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.

<i>Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills</i> 1996 film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a 1996 American documentary film directed, produced and edited by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the trials of the West Memphis Three, three teenage boys accused of the May 1993 murders and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys as a part of an alleged satanic ritual in West Memphis, Arkansas.


Berlinger spearheaded two 2019 projects centered on the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy: the Netflix docu-series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes , [2] and the drama film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile , which he directed. [3]

Ted Bundy 20th-century American serial killer

Theodore Robert Bundy was an American serial killer and necrophile who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, before his execution in 1989 he confessed to 30 homicides that he committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. The true number of victims is unknown and possibly higher.

Netflix Internet video on demand service

Netflix, Inc. is an American video on demand service headquartered in Los Gatos, California, founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in Scotts Valley, California. The company's primary business is its subscription-based streaming OTT service which offers online streaming of a library of films and television programs, including those produced in-house. As of April 2019, Netflix had over 148 million paid subscriptions worldwide, including 60 million in the United States, and over 154 million subscriptions total including free trials. It is available almost worldwide except in mainland China as well as Syria, North Korea, and Crimea. The company also has offices in the Netherlands, Brazil, India, Japan, and South Korea. Netflix is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

<i>Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes</i> American docu-series on Netflix

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is an American documentary that premiered on Netflix on January 24, 2019, the 30th anniversary of Bundy's execution. Created and directed by Joe Berlinger, the four 60-minute episodes were sourced from over 100 hours of interviews and archival footage of serial killer Ted Bundy, as well as interviews with his family, friends, surviving victims, and the law enforcement members who worked on his case.

Early life and education

Berlinger was born to a Jewish family [4] in Bridgeport. Connecticut. [5] He graduated from Colgate University in 1983 [6] with a B.A in German Language.

American Jews Ethnic group

American Jews, or Jewish Americans, are Americans who are Jews, whether by religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Today the Jewish community in the United States consists primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from diaspora Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe and comprise about 90-95% of the American Jewish population. Most American Ashkenazim are US-born, with a dwindling number of now-elderly earlier immigrants, as well as some more recent foreign-born immigrants.

Bridgeport, Connecticut City in Connecticut, United States

Bridgeport is a historic seaport city in the U.S. state of Connecticut. It is in Fairfield County, at the mouth of the Pequonnock River on Long Island Sound, 60 miles from Manhattan and 40 miles from The Bronx. It is bordered by the towns of Trumbull to the north, Fairfield to the west, and Stratford to the east.

Connecticut state of the United States of America

Connecticut is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States. As of the 2010 Census, it has the highest per-capita income, Human Development Index (0.962), and median household income in the United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, New York to the west, and Long Island Sound to the south. Its capital is Hartford and its most populous city is Bridgeport. It is part of New England, although portions of it are often grouped with New York and New Jersey as the Tri-state area. The state is named for the Connecticut River which approximately bisects the state. The word "Connecticut" is derived from various anglicized spellings of an Algonquian word for "long tidal river".

Early career

After graduating from Colgate University, Berlinger took a position working at an advertising agency in Frankfurt, Germany. He soon transitioned into the world of film, working as an apprentice to the iconic documentarians Albert and David Maysles. Joe met his future directing partner, Bruce Sinofsky, while they were both employed by the Maysles. Together they would make their directing debut with the 1992 film Brother's Keeper.

Frankfurt Place in Hesse, Germany

Frankfurt is a metropolis and the largest city of the German federal state of Hesse, and its 746,878 (2017) inhabitants make it the fifth-largest city of Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne. On the River Main, it forms a continuous conurbation with the neighbouring city of Offenbach am Main, and its urban area has a population of 2.3 million. The city is at the centre of the larger Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region, which has a population of 5.5 million and is Germany's second-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr Region. Since the enlargement of the European Union in 2013, the geographic centre of the EU is about 40 km (25 mi) to the east of Frankfurt's central business district. Like France and Franconia, the city is named after the Franks. Frankfurt is the largest city in the Rhine Franconian dialect area.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Albert and David Maysles American brothers documentary filmmaker duo

Albert and his brother DavidMaysles were an American documentary filmmaking team known for their work in the Direct Cinema style. Their best-known films include Salesman (1969), Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1975).

Collaboration with Bruce Sinofsky

Working as a directing duo, Berlinger and Sinofsky created the landmark documentary Brother's Keeper (1992), [7] which tells the story of Delbart Ward, an uneducated elderly man in Munnsville, New York, who was charged with second-degree murder following the death of his brother William. Film critic Roger Ebert called it "an extraordinary documentary about what happened next, as a town banded together to stop what folks saw as a miscarriage of justice." [7]

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were a team of American documentary filmmakers that have won cult fame and critical acclaim. The duo are probably best known for their trilogy of Paradise Lost films, about the so-called West Memphis Three, and 2004 Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster. Though they often worked together, Berlinger and Sinofsky have also separately directed their own projects.

Brother's Keeper is a 1992 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The film is about an alleged 1990 murder in the village of Munnsville, New York. The film is in the "Direct Cinema" style of the Maysles brothers, who had formerly employed Berlinger and Sinofsky.

The pair went on to direct the Paradise Lost Trilogy-- Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), [8] Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000), [8] and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011), [8] which earned the pair an Academy Award nomination. [9] The trilogy, shot over two decades, focused on the West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of the brutal murder of three children. The trilogy raised doubts about the legitimacy of the teenagers' convictions and spurred a movement to release them from prison, where one of the men was awaiting a death sentence. In 2011, the West Memphis Three were released from their respective death and life sentences after filing an Alford Plea with the Federal Court of Arkansas.

<i>Paradise Lost 2: Revelations</i> 2000 film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is a 2000 American documentary film directed and produced by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and the sequel to their 1996 film Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, about the trials of the West Memphis Three, three teenage boys accused of the May 1993 murders and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys as a part of an alleged satanic ritual in West Memphis, Arkansas.

<i>Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory</i> 2011 film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is a 2011 American documentary film directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and sequel to their films Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000). The three films are about West Memphis Three, three teenage boys accused of the May 1993 murders and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys as a part of an alleged satanic ritual in West Memphis, Arkansas. Purgatory offers an update on the case of the West Memphis Three, who were all recognized guilty of the murders in 1994 but kept on claiming their innocence since then, before culminating with the trio's attempt at an Alford plea.

West Memphis Three three men convicted of the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas

The West Memphis Three are three men who, as teenagers in 1994, were tried and convicted of the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin to life imprisonment. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual.

Some Kind of Monster (2004), [10] called "one of the most revelatory rock portraits ever made" [11] follows the popular heavy metal band Metallica. Berlinger and Sinofsky capture the group at a crossroads, as bassist Jason Newsted quits the band and frontman James Hetfield abruptly leaves to enter a rehabilitation facility due to alcohol abuse. The film was critically acclaimed for capturing Metallica, a global phenomenon, at a moment of true vulnerability.

Sinofsky died on February 21, 2015 at the age of 58, from diabetes-related complications. The band Metallica paid tribute to him as a "courageous man with deep empathy and wisdom who wasn't afraid to dig deep to tell the story. [12] " Berlinger wrote that Sinofsky's "humanity is on every frame of the films that he leaves behind." [12]

Other works


Berlinger made his narrative feature debut with Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000). [13]

Berlinger's film Crude (2009) focused on the lawsuit by Ecuadorean plaintiffs against Chevron Corporation, for its alleged responsibility for continuing sites of pollution in that country. [14] Under African Skies (2012), follows Paul Simon as he returns to South Africa for a reunion concert, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his landmark album Graceland which featured many iconic South African Musicians. In 2014 Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger , a documentary about the infamous Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger was released. Berlinger traces Whitey's trail of terror as well as the FBI's role in both enabling him and taking him down.

Berlinger captured Tony Robbins' exclusive and notoriously private Date With Destiny seminar in his 2016 film Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. Berlinger chronicles the six-day seminar and the personal evolutions and breakthroughs of participants, Robbins and even Berlinger himself.

In 2017 Berlinger released Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction, an examination of the Armenian Genocide through both seated interviews with experts and behind-the-scenes footage of Terry George's historical drama The Promise (2016).

In 2019, Berlinger re-entered the world of narrative film and directed Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile , his second feature. The film chronicles the life of serial killer Ted Bundy and his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. Starring Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Haley Joel Osment and Angela Sarafyan, the film screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in January. [15]


As of 2018, Joe Berlinger has directed 15 documentary series for television, including Oprah's Master Class (2011–2012), Iconoclasts (2005–2012), The System With Joe Berlinger (2014), Killing Richard Glossip (2017), Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio (2017), and Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders (2017). Berlinger has three television projects slated for release in 2018: Unspeakable Crime: The Burning of Jessica Chambers (NBC/Oxygen), Wrong Man (STARZ), and a special fifth episode of Killing Richard Glossip (Discovery ID).

Literature and philanthropy

In collaboration with journalist Greg Milner, Berlinger wrote the book Metallica: This Monster Lives (2004), about his early career, accomplishments and challenges forging his path in the world of film. The book is centered around the filming of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

Berlinger serves on the board of Proclaim Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources and building awareness around wrongful convictions. He also serves on the board of Rehabilitation Through the Arts, The Bedford Playhouse and the International Documentary Association.

Chevron Corporation subpoenaed the outtakes from Berlinger's 2009 film Crude. Berlinger fought the request, citing reporters' privilege, but in 2010 a federal judge ordered Berlinger to turn over more than 600 hours of footage created during the film's production. [14] Berlinger appealed, but in 2011 the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling against Berlinger, though with a slight reduction in the total hours of footage required. [16] [17] [ full citation needed ] [18]

After spending $1.3 million on legal fees on the case, Berlinger expressed concerns about being able to make documentaries about legal cases in the future. [8]

Paradise Lost: The Case

Berlinger is best known for the film series Paradise Lost, [19] which documents the murder trial and the subsequent legal battles of three Arkansas teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., convicted of murder. [8] The court convicted the youths (known as the West Memphis Three) of murdering three eight-year-old boys as part of a "ritual killing," [8] although no physical evidence linked the three young men to the crime.[ citation needed ]Paradise Lost documents the 20-year ordeal of these three young men from arrest to conviction, through years of unsuccessful legal efforts, to a plea bargain that resulted in their release in the summer of 2012. [8]

The film series brought mainstream attention to the case, and many celebrities took up the cause of getting these young men out of prison and getting Damien Echols off of death row. The mainstream attention, brought on by the documentary series, allowed for a well-financed legal team to investigate every lead in the case. These subsequent investigations showed the incompetence of the West Memphis police, who had never dealt with this type of crime, and that the police let other suspects disappear from the community; for example, a man covered in blood used a restroom in a restaurant within walking distance of the murder scene shortly after the time of the murders. In addition to the failure to apprehend the suspect, the police lost the blood samples, even though this strange man left blood all over the bathroom. This mistake meant that the experts could never determine if this strange man was covered in the victims' blood.

Ultimately, the defense team hired DNA experts to test genetic material after fighting the prosecution for years to get access to it, and these tests again proved that no physical evidence linked the West Memphis Three to the murders; rather, a hair from one boy's stepfather was found tied into one of the shoelaces used to hogtie the victims. [20]

After a 2010 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding newly produced DNA evidence, [21] attorneys for the West Memphis Three negotiated with prosecutors an Alford plea allowing them to assert their innocence while acknowledging enough evidence to convict them; the result, on August 19, 2011, was acceptance of the pleas by Judge David Laser, and his reduction of sentence of the three to time served, and their release with 10-year suspended sentences (after 18 years, 78 days in prison). [22]

Personal life

Joe Berlinger lives with his wife, artist Loren Eiferman, in Westchester County, New York.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

<i>Some Kind of Monster</i> (film) 2004 film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Some Kind of Monster is a 2004 American documentary film featuring the American thrash metal band Metallica. It shares its name with the song "Some Kind of Monster" from Metallica's 2003 album St. Anger. The film shows many studio rehearsals and fragments of concert footage. It won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature. The DVD release was handled by Paramount Home Entertainment. Metallica re-released the film, including a bonus documentary, in 2014 to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

<i>Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2</i> 2000 film by Joe Berlingeri

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a 2000 American psychological horror film, directed and co-written by Joe Berlinger and starring Jeffrey Donovan, Stephen Barker Turner, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen and Tristine Skyler. The film was immediately greenlit upon pitch due to the surprising success of its predecessor, the wildly successful 1999 film The Blair Witch Project. Stylistically different from the first film, the plot revolves around a group of people fascinated by the mythology surrounding The Blair Witch Project film; they go into the Black Hills where the original film was shot, and experience supernatural phenomena and psychological unraveling.

<i>Metallica: This Monster Lives</i> book by Joe Berlinger

Metallica: This Monster Lives is a book written by Joe Berlinger and Greg Milner about how Berlinger filmed the feature-length movie Some Kind of Monster with the legendary heavy metal band Metallica. The book follows the emotional roller-coaster both he and his film partner Bruce Sinofsky and the band Metallica went through during the creation film. The book takes in the time from Berlinger and Sinofsky's first meeting with Metallica in 1999 to the 2003 Summer Sanitarium Tour. Berlinger and Sinofsky's relationship was at an all time low, exacerbated by Berlinger's decision to direct the disastrous sequel to the Blair Witch. At the start of filming the relationship between the band members, especially between vocalist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, is in a similarly perilous position after bassist Jason Newsted quit the band and long standing grudges between the remaining members threaten to escalate past the point of no return.

Bruce Sinofsky was an American documentary film director, particularly known for his films the Paradise Lost trilogy, Brother's Keeper and Some Kind of Monster, all created with Joe Berlinger.

<i>Ted Bundy</i> (film) 2002 American serial killer film directed by Matthew Bright

Ted Bundy is a 2002 American biographical crime film directed and co-written by Matthew Bright. The film dramatizes the crimes of serial killer Ted Bundy. It stars Michael Reilly Burke in the title role, and Boti Bliss as Bundy's girlfriend, Lee.

<i>Crude</i> (2009 film) 2009 film by Joe Berlinger

Crude is a 2009 American documentary film directed and produced by Joe Berlinger. It follows a two-year portion of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador.

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<i>West of Memphis</i> 2012 film by Amy J. Berg

West of Memphis is a 2012 New Zealand-American documentary film directed and co-written by Amy J. Berg, produced by Peter Jackson and Damien Echols, and released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics to critical acclaim. It received a nomination for Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America.

<i>Devils Knot</i> (film) 2013 film directed by Atom Egoyan

Devil's Knot is a 2013 American biographical crime drama film directed by Atom Egoyan. The film is based on a true story as told in Mara Leveritt's 2002 book of the same name, concerning three teenagers known as the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of killing three young boys during the Satanic ritual abuse panic. They were subsequently sentenced to death (Echols) and life imprisonment. Produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow, and Paul Harris Boardman, the film stars Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, Stephen Moyer, Elias Koteas, Amy Ryan, and Alessandro Nivola.

<i>Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger</i> 2014 documentary film directed by Joe Berlinger

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger is a 2014 American biographical documentary film produced and directed by Joe Berlinger. It is produced by CNN Films and Radical Media. Its world premiere was at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2014.

Elisabeth Holm American film producer

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<i>Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile</i> 2019 film directed by Joe Berlinger

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a 2019 American biographical crime thriller film, told from the point of view of serial killer Ted Bundy's former girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. Directed by Joe Berlinger with a screenplay from Michael Werwie, the film is based on Kendall's memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy. The film stars Zac Efron as Bundy, Lily Collins as Kendall, Kaya Scodelario as Bundy's wife, Carole Ann Boone, and John Malkovich as Edward Cowart, the presiding judge at Bundy's trial. The title of the film is a reference to Cowart's remarks on Bundy's murders while sentencing him to death.


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