'Brother's Keeper, 'Paradise Lost' Documentary Filmmaker Dies At 58 | KERA News

'Brother's Keeper, 'Paradise Lost' Documentary Filmmaker Dies At 58

Feb 25, 2015
Originally published on February 25, 2015 7:46 pm

Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger first came to the attention of filmgoers with their first full-length feature documentary, Brother's Keeper. They went on to even greater acclaim with their three Paradise Lost docs about the troubled trial of the West Memphis Three and their psycho-doc, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Bruce Sinofsky died Saturday of complications from diabetes. He was 58 years old.

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A leading American documentary filmmaker has died. Bruce Sinofsky and his collaborator Joe Berlinger made high-profile documentaries about everything from farmers to grisly murders to dysfunctional rock stars. Sinofsky died Saturday at his home in New Jersey of complications from diabetes. He was 58 years old. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Sinofsky and Berlinger first riveted art-house audiences with their 1992 documentary "Brother's Keeper."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "BROTHER'S KEEPER")

ROBERT J. KILLOUGH: Do you remember this question? After Bill went to sleep, what did you decide to do?

ULABY: It followed an unsettling true crime - the apparent mercy killing of an elderly dairy farmer by his nearly illiterate brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "BROTHER'S KEEPER")

KILLOUGH: (Reading) I wanted to make sure that Bill wasn't suffering any more - that he was dead.

DELBERT WARD: Yes, I remember that.

ULABY: Sinofsky and Berlinger visited his town in New York State for more than a year and became close with the accused brother and the townspeople who first shunned, then rallied to defend him. The filmmakers both apprenticed under one of the great masters of documentary film - Albert Maysles. But Sinofsky told NPR in 1992 he did not believe documentaries could ever really be objective.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BRUCE SINOFSKY: We firmly believe that there's no such thing in nonfiction filmmaking as capturing capital-T truth. We feel that "Brother's Keeper" is very much our subjective views of what we saw on that hill.

ULABY: The filmmakers took a similar approach in their next project. "Paradise Lost" delved into the brutal murder of three little boys in West Memphis, Ark. and the teenagers who were eventually accused partly because of their black clothes and taste for heavy metal. Again, Sinofsky and Berlinger spent months filming and just hanging out with the victims' families, the accused teenage boys and their shell-shocked parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PARADISE LOST: CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He'd have to do his time, suffer the consequences.

ULABY: That's the father of one of the teenagers and the father's girlfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PARADISE LOST: CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We wouldn't even send him a dollar for a pack of cigarettes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, no, you're wrong there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, we would not.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I would. He's my son.

ULABY: Sinofsky and Berlinger ended up making three films about the West Memphis three who were eventually released.

DAMIAN ECHOLS: He was one of the huge, huge factors in saving my life.

ULABY: That's Damian Echols, who was sentenced to death for the murders back in 1994. Echols says Sinofsky brought sympathy to what was a harsh ordeal for everyone.

ECHOLS: I think what makes people open up so much with Bruce was just how kind he was. You know, whenever he's talking to you, when you're looking at his face, when you're looking at his eyes, he's not looking at you like a subject of a documentary. He's looking at you as a human being, a person.

ULABY: For his part, Bruce Sinofsky says documentarians bear a huge responsibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SINOFSKY: You can make some person look incredibly guilty, incredibly innocent, incredibly foolish, incredibly hypocritical. We have great power, and we have to be very careful in how we do that.

ULABY: Sinofsky and Berlinger did that again in what's now considered one of the great rock documentaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME KIND OF MONSTER")

METALLICA: (Singing) Some kind of monster.

ULABY: "Some Kind Of Monster" showed the band Metallica struggling to deliver an album. In a statement over the weekend, the musicians called Bruce Sinofsky a comfort and visual lifeboat. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME KIND OF MONSTER")

METALLICA: (Singing) These are the eyes that can't see me. These are the hands that drop your trust. These are the boots that kick you around. This is the voice of silence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.