7 films you should know from 2017 Freedom of Expression Award winner Joe Berlinger
The 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is thrilled to honor filmmaker Joe Berlinger with this year’s Freedom of Expression Award. The FOE Award honors the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a free, just and open society. Berlinger will appear in person at the famous Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Thursday, July 27 to accept the award and screen his latest film, Intent to Destroy.
Joe Berlinger is inarguably one of the preeminent documentary filmmakers working today. Over a career spanning 25+ years, countless films, an Oscar nomination and an Independent Spirit Award, Berlinger has developed a signature filmmaking style that mixes the realism of documentaries with a compelling narrative drive often reserved for fiction storytelling.
Leading up to Berlinger’s Award presentation, #SFJFF37 is looking back at seven incredible films from his career that deserve a first, second or third watch.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
An instant classic of the music documentary genre, Berlinger’s Some Kind of Monster profiled metal superstars Metallica as they work on their 2003 album St. Anger, offering a deeply humanizing, “behind-the-curtains” look at the band as they questioned their very existence and struggled to succeed creatively. Berlinger won an Independent Spirit Award for this film.
Watch it on: Netflix
Under African Skies (2012)
This uplifting music documentary (which screened at SFJFF 2012) followed Paul Simon on a tour of South Africa as he marked the 25th anniversary of his landmark album Graceland. Deftly intertwining music, politics and race, Berlinger crafted an exemplary film with a theme of reconciliation, much like Simon’s original album, and full of sparkling, buoyant performances.
Watch it on: iTunes
Paradise Lost Trilogy (1996–2012)
Before Making a Murderer or The Jinx, there was Berlinger and filmmaking partner Bruce Sinofsky’s landmark films known as the Paradise Lost trilogy, about the trials of three teenage boys who came to be known as the West Memphis Three in West Memphis, Arkansas. The teenagers were accused of the May 1993 murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys. Over the course of more than 15 years and three films (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robbin Hood Hills (1996); Paradise Lost 2: Revelations; Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory) Berlinger examines every aspect of the case in riveting detail, from forensics evidence to courtroom proceedings and alleged jury misconduct.
Watch it on: VUDU, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play
This documentary follows a two-year portion of a class action lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador and earned Berlinger a reputation as a driven filmmaker unwilling to shy away from tough issues. In the film, 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazon rainforest are suing Chevron for the pollution of their ancestral lands.
Watch it on: iTunes, Fandor
Brother’s Keeper (1992)
Berlinger and Sinofsky’s debut film borrowed the “Direct Cinema” style pioneered by the Maysles Brothers, who had been their former employers, to profile a murder in upstate New York. Using interviews and news footage to sharply contrast two sides of society, Berlinger and Sinofsky portray the Ward brothers at the heart of the case as both simple country folk (according to the townspeople) and uneducated hicks (according to the news media).
Watch it on: Netflix
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014)
After legendary Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was captured hiding in a Santa Monica apartment building in 2011, Berlinger narrated the trial proceedings as a springboard into larger examinations corruption at the highest levels of law enforcement.
Watch it on: iTunes, VUDU, YouTube, Amazon Video
Intent to Destroy (2017)
One hundred years after 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, Berlinger reveals the disturbing truth behind Turkey’s well-funded campaign of genocide denial, suppression and intimidation. Berlinger utilizes the filming of The Promise, a $100 million Hollywood film production ambitiously billed as the Armenian Schindler’s List, to explore this historical tragedy and its relevance to the barbaric genocides that followed.
Watch it at: the 2017 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival