Joe Berlinger

Joe Berlinger

"Outrageous Taxi Stories" (1989) was Berlinger's debut as a producer and director (the film was edited by Sinofsky). This independent short, a humorous look at New York cabbies, became a festival hit and encouraged the two to go into partnership in Creative Thinking International, a company, formed by Berlinger in 1988. (It eventually spawned the commercial offshoot Gray Matter Productions, which has created both public service announcements and for-profit TV commercials.) The first feature from Creative Thinking was "Brother's Keeper" (1992), which--after a slow start--became the most successful self-distributed documentary to date. The eerily heartwarming story of a rural eccentric accused of his brother's mercy killing, it was produced, directed, written and edited by both Berlinger and Sinofsky. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, it went on to win numerous awards including citations from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Directors Guild of America. "Brother's Keeper" was later shown on PBS's "American Playhouse" in 1994. Their official small screen debut, however, was "The Begging Game," a 1995 installment of the PBS series "Frontline," which followed the fortunes and misfortunes of several New York panhandlers. In 1996, the team had another success with the grisly and unsettling documentary feature "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills." What began as the story of three uneducated teens accused of a triple child-murder developed into an uncertain look at mob stereotyping, local (Arkansas) mentality and the flaws of the legal system. Again, their film was screened at 52 festivals (including Sundance), won several awards and aired on HBO in June before its theatrical release. The style of Berlinger and Sinofsky is cinema-verite: no narration, scant subtitles and no artsy cinematic effects. The filmmakers gain the trust of the participants, who tell their own stories their own way, edited down from hours of tape.