Joe Berlinger is accusing Amber Sealey, the filmmaker behind “No Man of God,” a new film about Ted Bundy, of taking unnecessary potshots at the two films he previously made about the serial killer in an effort to generate attention for her movie.
The indie director, whose credits include both the Netflix docu-series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and the drama film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” which starred Zac Efron as the murderer, fired off a trenchant email to Sealey the day before her film premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Forgive the unsolicited advice, but after reading some of your interviews about your Bundy movie, I feel compelled to tell you that tearing down my work to promote yours is a slippery slope and intellectually dishonest and deeply offensive,” Berlinger wrote. “How did my film glorify Bundy? Do you know anything about me and my 30 years focusing on criminal justice issues in my work, from wrongful conviction to victim advocacy.”
“Interestingly, my Bundy doc series was accused by some of glorification because it discussed the hideous violence against women, and then my Bundy movie with Efron, which came out second, was criticized for glorifying Bundy by NOT showing any violence (until the final scene). Which is it?” he asked.
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Sealey shared his message on her Instagram account, and invited him to attend the film’s premiere on Friday.
“We have an extra ticket for you to the #NoManOfGod premiere tonight if you’d like to see the movie for yourself and we can discuss more in person openly?” she wrote. “Cuz this felt like you were just trying to make me feel shitty right before my screening. Have a great day. #femalefilmmakerfriday #bundyisdivisive.”
Sealey declined to comment beyond her post. In a statement, Berlinger told Variety, that he had intended to keep the exchange between the two filmmakers private and suggested that she was seeking publicity by sharing his email on Instagram.
“Promoting her film about the rape and murder of women by tearing down my film that was designed to be a victim-focused film about the psychology of betrayal and deception, made with the full support of victim Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins, and was supported by other victims of Bundy’s crimes felt intellectually dishonest,” Berlinger stated. “In a private email, I let Amber know my feelings in a thoughtful manner. Her publication of that private email is as self-promotional as her comments about my film. There is room for many takes on a subject, and I wish her the best. It’s a miracle that any film gets made these days — so to tear down other people’s work to promote your own is not how filmmakers should treat one another. Remember, she made it public, not me. Mine was a private email.”
Berlinger doesn’t specify in his note or in his statement which interview raised his ire. However, in a recent Refinery29 piece in Sealey argued that other movies about Bundy had glorified him.
“I was certainly daunted by the fact that there had been so many movies made about him,” Sealey said. “ And then I thought, If there’s going to be another one, I’m going to make it stand apart from the rest of the crowd. I don’t personally believe that any of the movies that have already been made up until now have really shown the real Bundy. They always glorify him. They make him out to be a male model — so smart, so charismatic, a master of disguise. I don’t see that. When I look at him and I watch interviews and I listen to the tapes, I see a deeply insecure, needy — almost like an incel — kind of guy who just wants accolades and wants people to tell him how great he is.”
A description of the film on Tribeca’s website also notes that Sealey’s film “is the most sober and psychologically intricate look at the killer’s story yet” and says “No Man of God” doesn’t “…glamourize the oft-romanticized Bundy.”
The Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning Berlinger’s credits include the “Paradise Lost” trilogy, which helped pressure the Arkansas Supreme Court to weigh new DNA evidence against the West Memphis Three, a move that led to their release from prison. His other credits include “Brother’s Keeper,” “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” and “Crude.”
Sealey has directed “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” as well as the award-winning “How to Cheat” and “A Plus D.” “No Man of God” stars Elijah Wood as FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and centers on a series of interviews he conducted in prison with Bundy (Luke Kirby), where he attempted to find out why the serial killer murdered more than 20 people. The film draws on transcripts of their discussions.
“I wish you the best with the film, but don’t promote it at my expense,” Berlinger wrote. “I hope you have a [good]* critical response, but I think once your reviews are in, you will find that some of your reviewers will purposefully misunderstand your intention and criticize your work as glorification — perhaps as a woman you will avoid some of the vitriol I received from some corners who seemed to have a pre-meditated agenda to criticize — but I predict that you will probably see a bunch of reviews that accuse you of what you now accuse me of in your self-promotion.”
Berlinger went on to wish Sealey “good luck with the premiere.”
*In an email to Variety, Berlinger noted that his initial message contained a typo that failed to include “good” before “critical response.” He provided a screenshot of his message to Sealey correcting the mistake.