Sundance Film Festival

Joe Berlinger on his PARADISE LOST Oscar nomination


Photo credit: Dmitry Gudkov/Sundance Channel

Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (CRUDE, SOME KIND OF MONSTER) woke up in Park City this morning to the news his film PARADISE LOST: PURGATORY got an Oscar nomination. Berlinger stopped by the Sundance Channel HQ to talk about the honor and the twenty years he spent documenting the West Memphis Three. For those of you not familiar with the story, The West Memphis Three were teenagers convicted of murdering three young children back in 1994. Berlinger’s trilogy of films followed the young men’s trial, appeals and eventual release. Many people credit Berlinger’s films (co-directed with Bruce Sinofsky) with playing a role in securing the men’s release after 18 years in prison.

Congratulations on the Oscar nomination!
Thank you. It feels great. After 20 years in the business it’s nice to be recognized in that way. I was in our condo [when I heard the news], because I’m here at Sundance premiering a new film (UNDER AFRICAN SKIES) and my wife and kids are here, so I got to share it with my family. I was waiting for that 6:30 am phone call. It was great.

What was that phone call like?
I initially thought we hadn’t been nominated, because everyone told me you get the call at 6:30. And so 6:30 goes by, 6:40. And I texted my publicisist and she said documentaries hadn’t been posted yet. Then she called me back five minutes later to say we got it!

What was going through your mind when you heard that?
It’s been such a crazy year and half. It has been such a magical ride. I started off the year on the tail end of my lawsuit with Chevron over my movie CRUDE, in which I was just clobbered over the head with a 2×4 financially, emotionally, philosophically. And then the West Memphis Three getting out of prison August 19th with our films just being finished and we had to change our ending. Now we are at Sundance with another film and there is an Oscar nomination…it’s just great! My wife very wisely prepared me for this moment…helping to get a guy off of death row and helping people who have life sentences get out of prison. And then having them join us at the film’s premiere at the New York Film Festival where they got a ten minute standing ovation. So my wife has been saying, “that is your Oscar.” But, hey now I have an Oscar nomination to add to that and it feels wonderful. It’s the perfect punctuation to a two decade, three film journey.

Joseph Berlinger is the producer/director of Sundance Channel’s ICONOCLASTS. We’ll have more from Amer Haleem’s interview with him later today.