Sundance will premiere ‘Whitey’ and explore shadowy truth |

Sundance will premiere ‘Whitey’ and explore shadowy truth

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

Academy Award nominated Filmmaker Joe Berlinger is no stranger to Park City. His sixth and latest Sundance film, "Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger," which is about, in Berlinger’s words, "the illusiveness of truth," screens in the "Doc Premieres" category beginning Saturday, January 18, and is sure to generate more than a bit of buzz.

Berlinger, who has long had issues with the American criminal justice system and the seemingly inherent corruption at its core, was totally surprised when legendary Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was actually captured after spending 16-years on the lam. After it came out that Bulger had been an informant for the FBI, "I thought he’d been given a free pass."

The filmmaker had long been intrigued by the Whitey Bulger mythology but it wasn’t until his capture on the west coast and especially the ensuing trial that Berlinger saw it as a story, as three-decades of history. And once CNN Films pitched him about adapting the improbable chronicle to the screen, he was all in.

"The film challenges a lot of long held beliefs," Berlinger recently told The Park Record during a phone interview from New York where he was busy putting final touches on the film prior to shipping it to Sundance. "It’s much deeper than just the story of a famous gangster being a longtime FBI informant."

Access and logistics presented a problem to the process from the start but the hurdles proved far from insurmountable. "One of the challenges of making the film was that you can’t film in a federal courthouse but access to victims, journalists, prosecutors, and all the courthouse players" made that a non-issue, according to Berlinger.

If there were issues, getting at the truth was certainly one of them. Looming over the entire project was this long-held myth of Whitey Bulger as Robin Hood, of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, of, when all was said and done, not really being the bad guy.

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Well, as it turned out, there were plenty of bad guys to go around on all sides of this riveting true crime saga. Nothing is obvious. The truth hides in shadows with a smirk on its yap and a bribe in its pocket. The interviews have a "Rashomon" quality. Alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions abound in every dark alley.

"All sides had their own take on the events in question," Berlinger continued. "Each party shaped the narrative in its own way. How many different versions of truth were out there? Did he kill women, or not? How deep did the levels of corruption reach?" This is the turf of "Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger."

Joe Berlinger is assembling quite a Sundance canon. With "Brothers Keeper," "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," "Crude," "Under African Skies," the Paul Simon Graceland documentary, already in his rear-view mirror and, now, "Whitey," his films seem to appear every year or so at the top of everyone’s short list.

"Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger" is one of 12 titles in the Documentary Premieres category at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and will be screened as follows:

Saturday, Jan. 18, at 2:30 p.m. at The MARC, Park City

Sunday, Jan. 19, at 9:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 1, Park City

Monday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City

Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden

Saturday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City