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There's a documentary film about the West Memphis Three showing at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and Joe Berlinger will be attending the festival for a film he directed. But those aren't the same film.
Berlinger, who directed the acclaimed "Paradise Lost" film trilogy about the West Memphis Three, isn't involved with "West of Memphis," Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh's documentary about the three men who were wrongly convicted in 1994 of killing three children.
"I think it's terrific," Berlinger said about "West of Memphis," while adding it was time for him to pass the baton. "There can't be enough films about this miscarriage of justice."
Berlinger, 50, is bringing his fifth film, "Under African Skies," to the Sundance Film Festival. It's a documentary following Paul Simon back to South Africa a quarter-decade after the musician released his landmark record "Graceland."
Despite winning the 1986 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, Simon was widely criticized for what some perceived as cultural imperialism for appropriating African musical styles such as isicathamiya and mbaqanga into his pop. He also was assailed for breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against South Africa's apartheid regime.
The idea for the film came from Simon's camp. They wanted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1986 album, and Berlinger, a respected filmmaker, had made music-related films such as "Some Kind of Monster," a Metallica documentary screened at Sundance in 2004.
"In many ways, 'Graceland' was the most extraordinary experience in my entire career," said Simon in a statement released by Sony Music. "The insight into rhythm was the great gift that I received from making the trip to South Africa and collaborating with African musicians."
The opportunity presented a marriage of two subject matters Berlinger said he felt strongly about: social justice and music.
However, Berlinger laid out ground rules for Simon and his management. "I'm not interested in making a Paul Simon puff piece," he remembered telling them. "Paul was a great collaborator, but I made the film I wanted to make. … They knew who they were hiring."
Having devoted nearly 20 years of his life to working on the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, Berlinger found himself surprised by the relative speed of "Under African Skies." "The film came about quite beautifully, quite spontaneously," he said, adding that most of the work was shot in a single summer.
While there remains controversy about Simon's album, Berlinger's record of advocacy in films such as his recent oil documentary "Crude" and the latter films of the "Paradise Lost" trilogy isn't exhibited in "Under African Skies." "My approach is to present both sides, and to let the audience decide."
'Under African Skies' screenings
Sunday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. • MARC, Park City (waitlist only)
Monday, Jan. 23, 9 a.m. • Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)
Thursday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m. • Salt Lake City Library, Salt Lake City (waitlist only)
Friday, Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. • MARC, Park City (waitlist only)