Bruce Sinofsky, one-half of the Emmy Award-winning documentarian team behind films like Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and the West Memphis Three trilogy Paradise Lost, passed away in his sleep Saturday morning following complications from diabetes, his filmmaking partner Joe Berlinger told Variety. He was 58.
“[Sinofsky’s] unique combination of courage and empathy made that possible, as well as everything that came after for us,” Berlinger told Variety. “The extraordinary adventures we had on the road and the deeply stimulating experiences we had in the editing room were life-changing for all of us who knew him thanks to his wisdom and fervor to change the world.”
After beginning his filmmaking career with the well-received 1992 documentary Brother’s Keeper, Sinofsky and co-director Berlinger next turned their attention to the case of the West Memphis Three, the story of three Arkansas teenagers – Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin – who were convicted of killing three eight-year-old Cub Scouts in 1993. Although evidence suggested the teenagers’ innocence, they were found guilty because they were social outcasts in the community.
The resulting 1996 HBO documentary was called Paradise Lost: Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. The film featured music by Metallica, who contributed to the score after learning that the West Memphis Three were fans of their music. “It was the least we could do,” Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone. “They were outsiders who didn’t fit into what that community wanted. I could definitely identify with them. We all could.” The documentary was followed four years later by a sequel, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, that cast further doubt on the teenagers’ guilt.
Following the films, the West Memphis Three gained support from artists like Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits and Henry Rollins. While that murder case was still under the microscope, Sinofsky and Berlinger shifted their focus to heavy metal to document Metallica as they worked on their album St. Anger. The result was 2004’s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a gut-wrenching portrait of the band on the verge of destruction after bassist Jason Newsted quit and frontman James Hetfield ditched the recording process to enter rehab.
Following news of Sinofsky’s death, Metallica posted a long tribute to the filmmaker on their official site. “Smart, funny and dedicated, Bruce was with us almost every day in the early 2000’s and was an integral part of helping us to navigate the rough waters during those times. Although not very welcomed at times, he was there through some of the darkest times of Metallica. He became a dedicated comfort and visual lifeboat, while objectively observing the unraveling and rebuilding of our inner and outer selves,” the band wrote. “With their relentless work and attention to detail, Bruce and Joe’s films drew attention to the miscarriages of justice associated with the trial of three teens accused of murder and helped to lead to their eventual release from prison after over 18 years behind bars.”
The third installment of the Paradise Lost trilogy, Purgatory, arrived in September 2011, just one month after the West Memphis Three walked out of prison after nearly two decades behind bars. In the third film, which was later nominated for an Academy Award, Sinofsky and Berlinger followed the Three as the courts deny their appeals for a new trial until they ultimately strike a deal to walk out of jail on the condition that they change their pleas to guilty and maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict them.
In addition to Some Kind of Monster and the Paradise Lost trilogy, Sinofsky also helmed PBS’ Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records as well as Where It’s At: The Rolling Stone State of the Union, a 1998 television special featuring Bruce Springsteen, Beck and Fiona Apple that aired on ABC. A memorial service for Sinofsky will be held in March.