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Q&A: ‘Whitey’s Joe Berlinger On Finding Great Docu Subjects From Mobsters To Metallica And The West Memphis 3

By | Sunday June 29, 2014 @ 6:31pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Q&A: ‘Whitey’s Joe Berlinger On Finding Great Docu Subjects From Mobsters To Metallica And The West Memphis 3If all filmmaking is struggle, none struggle harder than the documentary director who: searches for truth and injustice; raises the money to expose it; fights to escape the common result of barely leaving a festival footprint before vanishing; and then starting all over. Joe Berlinger has fared better than most. An argument could be made he and ex-partner Bruce Sinofsky helped reassemble the band Metallica, and it’s indisputable they kept one member of the so-called West Memphis 3 from being executed and the other two from dying in jail for the murder of three Arkansas children prosecution said was part of a satanic ritual, though it offered no physical evidence.

joebBerlinger’s gone solo as Magnolia this weekend released Whitey: United States Of America V. James J. Bulger. Hollywood loves the story of the ruthless Boston mob boss who used his station as protected FBI informant to build a criminal empire and get rid of rivals. Johnny Depp plays Bulger in an upcoming Warner Bros film, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are percolating another, and Jack Nicholson played a composite in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winner The Departed. Berlinger takes an unexpected path into a familiar story. What if, as Bulger and his lawyers claim, he was not a rat, but a pawn to obscure widespread law enforcement corruption? Berlinger chases that thread while following survivors of Bulger murder victims who sought truth when Bulger was finally captured and put on trial. Here, Berlinger talks about the documentary life, how luck plays a part in great docus, and about processing the shocking death of Oscar-winning Searching For Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul.

DEADLINE: The Paradise Lost trilogy you and Bruce Sinofsky made kept Damien Echols from being executed, and Jessie Misskelley Jr and Jason Baldwin from dying in prison. What compelled you to make a film that explores the alibi of a notorious criminal like Bulger?
JOE BERLINGER: The film in no way is a Bulger apology. Bulger was a vicious, brutal killer who did terrible things, but he was enabled by the government, he was allowed to kill. You know the accepted story about Bulger that people have written books and made movies about; he was an FBI informant. It’s bad enough as an FBI informant, FBI agents look the other way and in some cases aided and abetted some murders by giving him information. This is the first time Bulger has ever been heard from. Despite the glut of media, the dozen books, the Affleck-Damon movie, the fictionalized version in The Departed, as the film unfolds you see there is very strong evidence he may have not been an informant at all. Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger’

The latest docu from Oscar-nominated director Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) tracks the trial of notorious criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, using his court proceedings as a platform to examine accusations of corruptions within the American legal system. Berlinger premiered the CNN Films and Radical Media-produced docu at Sundance in January. Magnolia will debut Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger June 27 in limited release:

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Cannes: Docu Helmer Joe Berlinger On ‘Facing The Wind’

Mike Fleming

Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker who co-directed TFF Awards Night - 2013 Tribeca Film Festivalthe Paradise Lost trilogy about the West Memphis 3 and Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, will make the narrative pic Facing The Wind. The film has Vera Farmiga, Evan Rachel Wood and Alessandro Nivola attached and it will be sold at Cannes. An adaptation of the nonfiction book by ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Salamon, it tells the story of Bob Rowe, who spiraled from model husband to a man who commits a shocking act of violence against a loved one and then tries to redeem himself. Nivola will play Rowe, Farmiga will play his first wife, whom he murders. Wood plays his second wife, whom he marries after pleading insanity and avoiding prison. Rita Wilson and Jennifer Beals will play supporting roles.

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Joe Berlinger’s Whitey Bulger Docu Gets Magnolia Theatrical Release

By | Tuesday March 25, 2014 @ 12:38pm PDT
Mike Fleming

whiteyMagnolia Pictures acquired U.S. theatrical, VOD and home entertainment rights to Whitey: The United States Of America V. James J Bulger, the Joe Berlinger-directed docu on notorious Irish gangster Whitey Bulger and the massive law enforcement corruption that allowed his reign of terror to proliferate in South Boston and enable his escape from justice. The film premiered at Sundance and Berlinger Co-directed Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster and the Paradise Lost trilogy. Pic was produced by RadicalMedia for CNN Films.

Magnolia will be giving the film a day and date theatrical and on demand release this June, followed by a broadcast on CNN later this year. Berlinger takes a surprising angle. While it was long believed that Bulger ran his operation while he was an FBI informant, Berlinger investigates whether that was actually the case. He certainly operated under the noses of law enforcement. But was he a rat?

“Whitey is a jaw-dropping true crime epic—a real life The Departed,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “As longtime admirers of Joe Berlinger’s films, we’re excited to be working together on this rigorous, thoroughly entertaining and tough-as-nails film.”

Cinetic Media repped the filmmaker.

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Drama Series Based On West Memphis 3 Filmmaker’s Experience Sold To Fox

By | Tuesday October 23, 2012 @ 1:30pm PDT

Fox has bought Paradise Falls, a crime drama from Emmy-winning Boardwalk Empire writer-producer Margaret Nagle. Joe Berlinger, who directed the HBO documentary series Paradise Lost about the trial, conviction and eventual release of the West Memphis 3, is co-executive producing the project, which will be loosely based on his experiences covering the case for two decades. The series centers on a down-on-his-luck documentary filmmaker who is sent by a crime reality show to cover the trial of a heinous crime that has engulfed the tourist town of Paradise Falls, PA. He uncovers corruption and deceit at every turn, realizing the case is a smokescreen for the townspeople’s twisted ambition for fame and profit. Nagle, who also sold a one-hour drama to CBS this season, is writing and executive producing the Universal Television Studios project. Brillstein Entertainment’s Margaret Riley also is an executive producer. Read More »

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2012 Sundance: Fest Veterans Returning With New Work

As part of our Sundance kickoff, Deadline posted a list of the famous and about-to-be-famous whose films are premiering at the festival. Now with the first full day of the event underway, I’m spotlighting a dozen Sundance veterans who have new work screening this year:

Christine Vachon, executive producer Shut Up And Play The Hits — It’s hard to imagine Sundance or even independent film without this producing tour de force. Her credits include I Shot Andy Warhol, Happiness, Velvet Goldmine, Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven and many others. For this year’s edition she’s executive producing along with Keith Wood and The Creators Project on a doc spotlighting LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden featuring an intimate portrait of James Murphy and his lead-up to the final concert.

Mary Jane Skalski, producer Hello I Must Be Going — Skalski has also made an indelible mark on the Sundance landscape with films stretching back into the ’90s. This century her Sundance portfolio includes The Station Agent, Mysterious Skin, The Hawk Is Dying and last year’s Pariah and Win Win. She returns as producer on Todd Louiso’s competition feature Hello I Must Be Going about a down-and-out 35-year-old woman who finds solace from a 19-year-old boy after returning home to live with her parents.

Eugene Jarecki, director of The House I Live In — Jarecki previously has taken on America’s conflicts abroad, but now turns the lens on the war on drugs which has cost 45 million arrests over four decades — making America the world’s top jailer. Jarecki’s first short, Seasons Of The Lifterbees debuted at Sundance in 1993. He won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and a Peabody Award for 2005′s Why We Fight and premiered his HBO doc Reagan at the festival last year.

Paul Dano, executive producer/actor in For Ellen — Dano may be a name in a good number of households following his stints in Fast Food Nation, There Will Be Blood and Meek’s Cutoff. In 2006, Little Miss Sunshine took Sundance by storm, in which he starred along with then-newcomer Abigail Breslin. He’s back again, starring in and executive producing For Ellen directed by So Yong Kim (also a Sundance vet who took a Special Jury Prize for In Between Days at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival). Dano plays Joby, a struggling musician who takes an overnight long-distance drive to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter.
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West Memphis 3 To Attend New York Film Fest Screening Of Docu ‘Paradise Lost 3′

The West Memphis 3 will get to see in person the recut version of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary about them — the one that has been recut to reflect the trio’s release from jail after 18 years served for the murders of three Arkansas 8-year-olds in 1993. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is screening for the first time in its newest version Monday at the New York Film Festival, and Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr will be there, the fest’s organizer the Film Society of Lincoln Center said today. The original version of the HBO Documentary Films pic screened as-is during last month’s Toronto International Film Festival as the filmmakers didn’t have time to add the fresh ending, which showed the men’s release. The trio’s original conviction — derived despite the lack of physical evidence tying the then-teenagers to the murders — became a cause celebre, and the West Memphis 3 have received moral and financial support from the likes of The Hobbit director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines. Meanwhile, there already is a feature film in the works with Atom Egoyan directing; Devil’s Knot is set to begin shooting in the spring. Read More »

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TOLDJA! Recut West Memphis 3 Docu To Bow At NY Film Festival

The New York Film Festival announced additional programs for its 49th edition today including that it will host the premiere screening of the new ending to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s West Memphis 3 documentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which we reported would land there first. The new footage includes the recent shock release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were just sprung from an Arkansas prison after 18 years for the murder of three children due to lack of evidence and a long and high-profile fight to overturn their convictions. The filmmakers earlier said the HBO documentary will air with its original ending for next month’s Toronto International Film Festival. Here’s the NYFF release: Read More »

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West Memphis 3 Docu Directors Will Leave Film Intact For Toronto Film Festival Debut

Mike Fleming

While Paradise Lost documentary directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky told me last night they intended to change the ending of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory to reflect today’s stunning developments before they premiered the movie at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmakers have instead decided to leave the film alone for Toronto and install a new ending for the New York Film Festival in October, or even for its January debut on HBO. The filmmakers rushed to Arkansas last night to film defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr as they tasted freedom after 18 years. Berlinger and Sinofsky were nearly done with their third documentary on the case, which they feel was a tremendous travesty of justice that left Echols on death row and the other two serving life terms for the brutal murder of three 8-year-old boys in 1993. Those convictions were made without any physical evidence.

“We’ve made the decision to let the film play as is in Toronto,” Berlinger just told me. “We worked on it for a long time and it didn’t seem right to rush a new ending. We’ll tack on one more scene that changes the ending from a question mark to a joyous triumphant moment, but we’ll aim for the New York Film Festival or for HBO.” Read More »

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West Memphis 3 Freed After Plea Deal, And Toronto-Bound Docu Directors Need Ending Change

Mike Fleming

UPDATE: The West Memphis 3, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were just freed in an Arkansas hearing after being in prison 18 years for the murder of three children in 1993. The three were freed after pleading guilty and drawing a sentence equal to the time they already served. The original conviction, which was derived despite any physical evidence tying the trio to the murders, became a cause celebre and the West Memphis 3 have received moral and financial support from the likes of The Hobbit director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines. The case has also be the subject of two Paradise Lost HBO documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. A third installment will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, followed by the New York Film Festival and a January airing on HBO.

Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh To Reveal Financial And Legal Support For ‘West Memphis 3′ Freedom Effort

EARLIER, AUGUST 18, 8:20 PM EXCLUSIVE: It’s just days before the directors lock their third documentary on the “West Memphis 3″  for premieres at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. But Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory helmers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky raced to Arkansas to prepare to add a new ending. They’ll bring their camera Friday morning to … Read More »

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