Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky at NYFF2011
The New York Film Festival has many gems as festival goers are aware. October 13th brought HBO Film's Directors Dialogues with Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky of the Paradise Lost Trilogy. Monday, the film was screened at the NYFF with Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin in attendance. "Monday was magical... words can't describe" was Joe Berlinger's description of the night. The sentiment was echoed by his partner Bruce Sinofsky, "I was flying." Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is the culmination of fifteen years and three films documenting the now infamous West Memphis 3 case. However, the story of Joe and Bruce begins some 10 years prior. The duo met in 1986. Apparently, Joe had a very comfy couch in his office, so Bruce was there. On the couch. Bruce did leave the confines of the comfy couch to edit Outrageous Taxi Stories (1989), a 25 minute short directed by Joe. And so the journey begins...
How does one go about defining the journey of documentary filmmaking, the process as it were? "...one giant spectrum of filmmaking. It's all storytelling. It's all highly subjective. We are verite filmmakers." Joe Berlinger explained to a captive audience. "Film life as it unfolds in front of the camera. You never know where the story will go." In the early 90s Berlinger and Sinofsky went to upstate New York and the result was 1992's Brother's Keeper. Brother's Keeper was a documentary about the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Both Berlinger and Sinofsky had read about the case in the newspapers and both agreed it was an important story to tell. Says Bruce Sinofsky, "We felt this was something that would make our careers." He goes on to say that nobody wanted to distribute the first film so they had to distribute it themselves. This led Sinofsky and Berlinger to set up their own production company. "We try so hard to give people an ear" says Sinofsky.
The end of the twentieth century brought some transition and change to the duo as they went their separate ways and worked on solo projects. The fan favourite Some Kind of Monster was actually started by Joe alone and was only intended to be a "small project." Bruce was brought in when that was no longer the case. As contentious as things were on screen for the members of Metallica, it was equally so for Berlinger and Sinofsky whose relationship mirrored that of drummer Lars Ulrich and singer/guitarist James Hetfield. The "existential and creative crisis" brought Joe and Bruce back together. "It was really healing for Bruce and I", says Joe. Both he and Bruce relate that when they had finished filming Metallica's therapy sessions, they would go back to the hotel or restaurant and talk about their own relationship. "It's a blessing I met him," says Bruce. "We have a way of communicating without saying anything."
Their simpatico relationship produces great documentaries. Paradise Lost 3 premiered in Toronto, albeit with a different ending than is now being shown. The film was locked in August of 2011. The plan was to have the film at the Toronto and New York film festivals and on TV by November in time for the evidentiary hearing in December. That was the plan. But on August 19, 2011 - Echols, Misskelly, and Baldwin were released. (About bloody time!) The film couldn't be re-cut in time for Toronto, but the new ending was in place for the premier in New York on October 10th.
The Paradise Lost Trilogy has been a long road for both directors and followers of the case. It is unusual for an audience to stay involved with the subjects of a documentary, let alone a series of documentaries spanning well over a decade. The support for Echols, Misskelly, and Baldwin by total strangers has been continuous and amazing. But now it's time to "put the camera down and let these guys live their lives. I love these guys! I'm amazed at the strength they showed." says Bruce Sinofsky. According to HBO.com, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will air in January 2012.
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