As original Blair Witch Project star Joshua Leonard put it to me last week, part of the reason the quickie 2000 sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was so disappointing was that Joe Berlinger, one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of the modern era, directed the thing. Indeed, how could everything have gone so wrong with the director of Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost at the helm?
“Joe Berlinger, who directed it, was one of my favorite documentary directors of our time,” said Leonard. “At the studio perspective, it was a little too much too soon, and probably approached with pretty capitalistic intentions. I was excited and rooting for it being good because I liked [the people involved] a lot. But I did go see it. I wanted to like it.”
Given his esteemed present-day reputation, it's easy to forget that at the time he signed on, Berlinger had never directed a narrative feature before, and therefore didn't have much power when it came to asserting his own creative vision for Blair Witch 2 against the wishes of the now-defunct independent studio Artisan Entertainment. And as Berlinger tells Deadline in a new interview, he was so traumatized by the experience that while at this year's Toronto Film Festival, he couldn't bring himself to attend a screening of the latest iteration of the series, Adam Wingard's Blair Witch.
“The studio recut the film and inserted scenes of gore against my will and I didn”t have the courage back then to just remove my name from the film,” said Berlinger. “And then to be eviscerated by critics on a cut of the film that I did not sanction was doubly painful. That”s not to say that my director”s cut would have garnered a better reaction from critics per se, by at least I could have stood by the film for representing my vision and if people hated that version, it would have been less painful because it”s what I would have wanted to be seen.”
Many of Berlinger's hurt feelings around Book of Shadows seem to stem from the long-standing perception that he killed the Blair Witch franchise despite the fact that a) he had no control over the finished product and b) at the time of its release, it was Artisan's second most successful film after the original Blair Witch Project.
“It grossed $48 million worldwide on a $10 million budget and did over $25 million on DVD… Pure gravy on DVD,” said Berlinger. “I know because my DGA residuals on this film paid for my daughter”s college education.” Can't argue with that!
For the full interview, navigate over to Deadline.