TV & Film

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July 12, 2020

(Episode 194) “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” Director: Joe Berlinger.

Meet one of the best documentarians on the planet!

Joe Berlinger!


Emmy-winning and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger has been a leading voice in nonfiction film and television for over two decades. A pioneer in the genre of true crime documentaries, Berlinger draws attention to social justice issues in the US and abroad with such landmark documentaries as Brother’s KeeperParadise Lost, and Crude. Highlighting the issue of oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest, Crudewon 22 human rights, environmental, and film festival awards and triggered a high profile First Amendment battle with oil-giant Chevron, while Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost influenced a generation of documentary filmmakers and are routinely studied in numerous film and law schools across the country. The New York Times included Brother’s Keeper in its guide to the 1000 best movies ever made, a list that represents all genres of film. Berlinger has received multiple awards from the Directors Guild of America, the National Board of Review and the Independent Spirit Awards. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, is a feature-length documentary produced by CNN Films and theatrically released by Magnolia in 2014. Berlinger’s film captures notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger’s sensational trial, using it as a springboard to explore allegations of corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement. The film was one of six Berlinger features to have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

In addition to social justice filmmaking, Berlinger has explored cultural icons in such documentaries as Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a film that redefined the rockumentary genre, and Under African Skies, about the 25th Anniversary of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. The film was nominated for three primetime Emmy awards after its 2012 Sundance Film Festival premiere, including Outstanding Nonfiction Special. In the summer of 2016, Netflix released Berlinger's Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru, a riveting vérité film that goes behind the scenes of renowned life and business strategist Tony Robbins and his mega once-a-year “Date With Destiny” seminar. Also for Netflix, Berlinger directed and produced Hank: 5 Years From the Brink, a dissection of the actions taken by then Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson to stave off a global meltdown during the financial collapse of 2008.

In 2017, Berlinger completed Intent to Destroy, which pulls back the curtain on the violent history of the Armenian Genocide and legacy of Turkish suppression and denial over the past century. The film won numerous film festival awards after its Tribeca Film Festival world premiere and was broadcast on Starz. In 2018 Berlinger executive produced Paris to Pittsburgh for Bloomberg Philanthropies and National Geographic. The film highlights the impassioned efforts of individuals across the United States who are battling climate change despite the Trump administration’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement. The film debuted in December of 2018 and aired globally in 172 countries.

In addition to his feature documentary work, Berlinger, a two-time Emmy and Peabody award winner (with five additional Emmy nominations), has created hundreds of hours of television as both a producer and director, including the Emmy-winning History Channel series 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America and the Emmy-nominated Gray Matter. He directed and produced six seasons of the critically acclaimed Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts and directed/executive-produced the first two seasons of the Emmy-nominated Master Class, a series for the Oprah Winfrey Network. His numerous HBO productions include AddictionJudgment Day andVirtual Corpse, and he has created series for VH1 and Court TV. Berlinger’s dramatic television directorial credits include NBC's acclaimed hit drama Homicide: Life on the Street, as well as the short-lived UPN/Dick Wolf series D.C.

Berlinger’s multiple Emmy-winning Paradise Lost series for HBO helped spawn a worldwide movement to free the “West Memphis Three" from wrongful murder convictions, ultimately resulting in a death sentence and two life-without-parole sentences being vacated, allowing the men to finally be released from prison on August 19, 2011. The last film in the trilogy, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was nominated for an Oscar and two primetime Emmys in 2012.

In 2015, the filmmaker finished directing and executive producing The System with Joe Berlinger, an eight-part series examining systemic problems within the American justice system for Al Jazeera America. Berlinger also directed and produced Judgment Day: Prison or Parole, an investigative series for Investigation Discovery that takes viewers inside the high stakes decisions made by parole boards everyday. Killing Richard Gossip, another Investigation Discovery series, tells the haunting story of a former motel manager sentenced to die for orchestrating a murder that he swears he had nothing to do with.

In the summer of 2017 Berlinger’s eight-part docuseries for Spike TV premiered. Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio, about the deaths and disappearances of six young women in southern Ohio, is a tragic saga shrouded in a mystery that includes a dark underbelly of a struggling Midwest region plagued by drug and sex trafficking, and a system that seems to have failed to protect these women. In the fall of 2017 Berlinger’s four-part true crime documentary series Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders reexamined the crime chronicled in Truman Capote’s landmark book and Oscar- nominated film.

In 2018, Berlinger produced and directed Wrong Man, a documentary series for Starz. An investigation into three separate cases of wrongful conviction, the show seeks to bring three innocent people the justice that the American criminal justice system has denied them. Wrong Man has been greenlit for a second season, where Berlinger and his team will examine three new cases. His most recent series, Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers, is an investigative look into the brutal murder of a Mississippi teenager, which Berlinger directed and executive-produced. It debuted as Oxygen’s highest rated show since its true crime rebrand in 2017.

Berlinger directed two projects which premiered days apart in early 2019. Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a four part series for Netflix, examines notorious serial killer Ted Bundy through exclusive interviews with the killer himself after being sentenced to death in Florida. The series debuted on January 24, just two days before the Sundance premiere of Berlinger’s narrative feature film on the same subject: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The film chronicles the life of Ted Bundy through the eyes of Liz Kloepfer, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years. Starring Zac Efron, Lily Collins, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario and Angela Sarafyan, Extremely Wicked made its world premiere at the Eccles Theater in Park City on January 26. Netflix also aquired the film and released it globally in May of 2019. 

Berlinger’s articles and photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, ArtForum, Film Comment, and Aperture magazines. His book, Metallica: This Monster Lives, The Inside Story of Some Kind of Monster, was published in 2004 by St. Martin’s Press.

Berlinger’s film and television development company, Third Eye Motion Picture Company, has had a long-standing unscripted production output deal with RadicalMedia, which also represents the director for commercial and branded-content production.

Berlinger is a member of the DGA, PGA, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) and the National Board of Review. He serves on the boards of the International Documentary Association, The Bedford Playhouse and the wrongful conviction nonprofit Proclaim Justice. Berlinger is on the Advisory Boards of the Jacob Burns Film Center, The Woodstock Film Festival and Rehabilitation Through the Arts. 

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