Ten Minutes With: Joe Berlinger
An award-winning movie maker and leader in his industry
Photo by Vivien Best
Joe Berlinger has been a leading voice in nonfiction film and television for two decades. Nominated multiple times for Academy, Emmy, and Peabody awards, winning Emmys for Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America; Crude; Brothers Keeper; and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Berlinger’s films have won Grand Jury Prizes at Sundance. Still on an adrenaline high, he agreed to be interviewed hours after appearing on “Good Morning America.”
You met the subject of your most recent film, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru at a social event. Was that an unusual way to start a project?
Very unusual. We struck up a conversation about my film, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and had an amazing, unexpectedly deep, conversation. He invited me to be a guest at one of his seminars. At the time, I barely knew who Tony Robbins was. I didn’t even know he did seminars.
You’re working now on a film about genocide. That’s a pretty grim topic to delve into, isn’t it?
It is a grim subject, but I’m approaching it in a way I think is interesting and important. We are living in divisive times. People are strapping on bombs and blowing other people up. Exploring how we descend into the worst crimes opens a discussion that can lead to deeper empathy towards our fellow human beings. The film isn’t as grim as it may sound; I’m going behind the scenes of a feature film that is telling the same story. My film is about filmmaking and story telling and genocide. I think I’m doing it in a way that makes the subject matter accessible.
What drives your desire to set the record straight and shine light on the dark?
From my earliest days working as a filmmaker, I’ve wanted to use film to shine light on injustice. I can’t tell you where it comes from, but this is what motivates me. Shining light on the dark.
Your work has taken you into some pretty strange places and situations. Have you ever felt scared?
For whatever reason, I feel the universe has put me in certain places to document certain truths about a situation. I don’t allow fear to come into the equation or I wouldn’t be able to do my job.
You’ve lived here since 1993. What made you feel this would be home base?
It’s far enough away from the city that I can live with my family in an idyllic setting but be close enough to New York City, which is my cultural home. New York is, to me, the center of the cultural world.
Is there anybody or anything in Bedford you’d like to make a film about?
No, because I don’t mix business with pleasure.
You’re a rather intense fellow. What do you do to relax?
Nothing gives me more pleasure than sitting around at home doing nothing when I’m back from a shoot. I also have a cabin in the woods on a lake in the Adirondacks where there’s no phone, no Internet. I love to be unplugged.