Update: In response to a request for comment from IndieWire, Amber Sealey issued a statement, excerpted here: “I found his initial email to me quite shocking. He clearly wanted me to get it (and on the day of my premiere, which every director knows is anxiety-provoking and emotional already) as he DM’d me on IG and he sent an email to my website. It felt like he was trying to silence me, to let me know that his films and his work were more important than mine could ever be and it felt a little mansplain-y. I have never mentioned his name or his films in any of my press interviews so it was dishonest of him to state that I was trashing his films. His name came up one time in a podcast that I don’t even believe he’s heard, but never in the trades or press interviews did I say anything about his films specifically.”
Earlier: In response to a request from IndieWire, Berlinger sent a followup email regarding his correspondence with Amber Sealey, stating, “If one reads the full original email, I think they will see it was a thoughtful but stern message about not taking down other people’s work to promote your own. The only thing I wish I had made more clear, since it’s now gone public, is that my discussion of my past work in the email was not about patting myself on the back. The point I was making is that in my three decades of nonfiction criminal justice filmmaking, I have spent considerable time with real victims and their families advocating both personally and filmically for them.”
He added, “So, for a fellow filmmaker to dismiss my work as ‘glorification’ is deeply hurtful to me because victims are always front and center in all of the work that I have done in this space. I am dumbfounded she posted my private email to her [Instagram] and thus escalated this minor debate into a news item, and suggests that she misses the irony that by making a private email public to gain attention by casting someone else in a negative light illustrates the very point I was privately making to her. She does make a very valid point that a female point of view helming the Bundy story makes for a necessary and interesting evolution in the long history of telling this or any serial killer story — but taking it to the next level and invalidating my work to promote hers is what prompted the email. I do wish her well with the film.”
Earlier: Joe Berlinger has accused Amber Sealey, the director of the new Ted Bundy-centered film “No Man of God,” of mischaracterizing his own films about the serial killer in the press to drum up attention for her own movie.
With credits including the Netflix documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and the drama starring Zac Efron as Bundy “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” Berlinger sent Sealey an irate email ahead of the premiere of her film at the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival. In Sealey’s version, Luke Kirby plays Bundy opposite Elijah Wood as FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier.
“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 in an email shared by Sealey on Instagram. “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.”
Berlinger appears to be referring to an interview with Sealey in Refinery29, in which she said in response to the question of why make another Ted Bundy movie, “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.”
Berlinger added in his email to Sealey, “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?”
Upon sharing the email on Instagram in full (below), Sealey commented, “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.”
In a statement shared with IndieWire, Berlinger said he’d intended for the correspondence to private, and called Sealey’s publicizing the email “self-promotional.”
“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 said. “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’s prior credits include the “Paradise Lost” trilogy, which encouraged Arkansas Supreme Court to consider new DNA evidence against the West Memphis Three, who were ultimately released from prison. Sealey, meanwhile, has directed the films “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” “How to Cheat,” and “A Plus D.”
“I wish you the best with the film, but don’t promote it at my expense,” Berlinger wrote in his email to Sealey. “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.”
IndieWire has reached out to Sealey’s representatives for comment.
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