Joe Berlinger

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Joe Berlinger
Born Joseph Berlinger
(1961-10-30) October 30, 1961 (age 54)
Occupation documentary film-maker
Years active 1989–present
Spouse(s) Loren Eiferman

Joseph "Joe" Berlinger (born October 30, 1961) is an American documentary film-maker.


In collaboration with Bruce Sinofsky, has created such films as Paradise Lost about the West Memphis 3, Brother's Keeper, Some Kind of Monster, Crude and Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger.

Berlinger is best known for the Paradise Lost Trilogy, a series of three feature length documentary films shot over two decades that led to the release of the West Memphis Three after 18-plus years of wrongful conviction. Although Berlinger primarily is known for documentaries, he has made a number of films, such as Blair Witch 2. Berlinger's original plan for the film was more of a psychological thriller and mystery that was intended to cause the viewer to question whether or not the characters in the film were insane, hysterical with hype or truly possessed, and to blur the distinction between fiction and reality. However, prior to the film's release, the studio, Artisan, was not confident in the film's subtle approach, and forced Berlinger to add a number of random scenes of violence into the film, which is one of its biggest criticisms. Indeed, Berlinger's original version of the film was held in a much higher regard for being more complex and intelligent.

In collaboration with journalist Greg Milner, Berlinger has also written a book called Metallica: This Monster Lives, which is about his journey from making Blair Witch 2 to creating Some Kind of Monster with Metallica, one of the world's most famous metal bands.

Berlinger has also worked on TV series such as Homicide: Life on the Street, D.C. and FanClub.

The first film Berlinger directed, in 1992, was the documentary Brother's Keeper, which tells the story of Delbart Ward, an elderly man in Munnsville, New York, who was charged with second-degree murder following the death of his brother William. Chicago Tribune film critic Roger Ebert, in his review of the movie, called it "an extraordinary documentary about what happened next, as a town banded together to stop what folks saw as a miscarriage of justice."[1]

He graduated from Colgate University in 1983.[2] He lives with his wife and daughters in New York.

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.[3] Berlinger appealed, but in 2011 the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling against Berlinger.[4][5][6] 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.[7]

Paradise Lost[edit]

Berlinger is best known for the film series Paradise Lost, which documents the murder trial and the subsequent legal battles of three teenagers wrongfully convicted of murder. The community of West Memphis, Arkansas believed that the three teenagers (known as the West Memphis Three) murdered three eight-year-old boys as part of a Satanic ritual, even though no physical evidence linked the three young men to the crime. Paradise Lost documents the 17-year ordeal of these three young men from arrest to conviction to years of unsuccessful appeals and finally to a successful appeal.[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.[8] 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.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chicago Tribune review of My Brother's Keeper
  2. ^ "Filmmaker Joe Berlinger '83 focuses on process, passion". Colgate University. 2005-11-09. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  3. ^ New York Times, May 6, 2010, Judge Rules that Filmmaker Must Give Footage to Chevron
  4. ^ Joe Berlinger, In Re: Application of Chevron. Declaration of Joe Berlinger, May 27, 2010.
  5. ^ David Folkenflik, A 'Crude' awakening: Chevron Vs. The documentarian, NPR, June 4, 2010.
  6. ^ Tom Isler, What ‘Chevron Corp. v. Donziger’ continues to get wrong about documentary filmmaking, Penn Law, Penn Program on Documentaries and the law, March 29, 2014.
  7. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (2012-01-06). "Filmmakers as Advocates in ‘Paradise Lost' Series". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ a b c Itzkoff, Dave (2012-01-06). "Filmmakers as Advocates in ‘Paradise Lost' Series". The New York Times. 

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