Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with Academy Award-nominated director Joe Berlinger and defense attorney Hank Brennan to discuss the 2013 trial of Jim “Whitey” Bulger and the extent of corruption within the Boston Police Department, the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Berlinger’s film, “WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” is a revelatory documentary film that follows the trial of the Irish Mob gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and the lengths taken by the government to silence Whitey Bulger. The trial had far less to do with Bulger than it did with shady dealings, using murderers as informants and doling out immunity to the highest bidder.
Dorri Olds: What inspired this film?
Joe Berlinger: I have long been fascinated by the Whitey Bulger story and how this guy had been mythologized over the decades. When he was arrested and a new generation of FBI came in, and there was going to be a trial, that’s when I started thinking there’s definitely a film here.
What are the challenges of making a documentary where so many people you speak to have reasons to lie?
I think it’s more challenging for the audience to consume the mission of the film, which is the Rashoman experience and the ultimate unknowability of the truth and yet the truth rises to the top. Many questions have been left unanswered. This film is to present the multiplicity of viewpoints and say, “Hey, something is not right here and we need to understand what happened.”
Is this a story that you’ll revisit?
Never say never. There’s a lot of unfinished business with this case. This is about the pursuit of the truth and fighting against institutional corruption, which I think continues to this day and will continue and the role of the press is to shine the light on injustice whenever it happens to keep our institutions as honest as we can. The fact that corrupt FBI agent John Connelly had his sentence vacated recently and the government has announced its intention to appeal but he will probably be out in a year. There’s probably an opportunity to take things from his perspective but who knows.
If this were not a case of institutional corruption would you have wanted to represent him?
Hank Brennan: I would’ve been vested in representing him because of the magnitude of the case. As a trial lawyer you want the biggest challenge with the most attention so I would’ve been interested but for different reasons.
Are you handling the appeal?
Yes, we’ll have that filed by the end of August. This is just the first round because the case has never really been about the myth of Jim Bulger. It’s about this institutional practice of corruption that exists today and we see over and over again. More citizens lives are lost as more situations and informants come out and they try to cover them up. Joe’s film is so important to me because it tells the community for the first time that this is an ongoing problem. You see the victims’ families and they haven’t gotten solace from the government that is supposed to protect them. They sat there during the trial and got revictimized.
It’s about culpability and at some point the federal government has to acknowledge they did something wrong to these families instead of fighting this lawsuit and continuing to give millions of dollars to killers to keep their storyline. Give the monies to the families that lost their loved ones. This was just round one. I think we won round one and I’m ready for round two.
“Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” now playing in New York City at IFC Center and available On Demand and iTunes on June 27, 2014. Crime documentary. Rated R. 120 min.