Bruce Sinofsky, a filmmaker whose critically lauded documentaries tracked a notorious East Arkansas murder case and portrayed the heavy metal band Metallica as a dysfunctional family, died on Saturday at his home in Montclair, N.J. He was 58.
His wife, Florence, said the cause was complications of diabetes.
Mr. Sinofsky worked often in collaboration with Joe Berlinger, with whom he shared directing, producing and editing chores on his best-known films. Those included a trilogy that examined the aftermath of the grotesque murder of three second-grade boys — Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch — who in 1993 were found naked, bound and disfigured in a creek bed in West Memphis, Ark.
Three local teenagers — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who became known as the West Memphis Three — were arrested in connection with the crime, which was said to have been carried out as part of a satanic ritual.
The series was notable for its extraordinary access to lawyers on both sides of the case and to families of both the victims and the accused. The first film, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (1996), followed the preparations of the prosecution and the defense as they unfolded, along with the community outrage at the crime, and chronicled the two trials (Mr. Misskelley was tried separately) and the convictions that resulted. Mr. Echols was sentenced to death; Mr. Misskelley and Mr. Baldwin received life sentences.
“Without trivializing the killings they came to investigate, the filmmakers carefully study the tattered social fabric that is the backdrop for an unthinkable crime,” Janet Maslin wrote in a review in The New York Times. She also wrote, “In this sad, lurid and darkly transfixing story, they locate all the elements of true-crime reporting at its most bitterly revealing.”
The film raised doubts about the rightfulness of the trials’ outcomes. Shown on HBO, it won a Peabody Award and a Primetime Emmy for outstanding informational programming and drew an outpouring of support for the convicted men, from, among others, the rock singer and guitarist Eddie Vedder and the actor Johnny Depp. Metallica, which counted the convicted men among its fans, allowed its music to be used in the film.
Mr. Sinofsky and Mr. Berlinger’s subsequent films about the West Memphis Three, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” (2000) and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (2011), carried the case to its ambiguous end more than 18 years after the crime. They told the story of the men’s imprisonment, their attempts to gain a new trial, the possibility of a new suspect and the emergence of new forensic evidence.
In 2011, the men were released as part of an unusual deal with prosecutors, in which they agreed to plead guilty to the murders even as they continued to proclaim their innocence and were sentenced to time served. The final installment of the documentary series was nominated for an Academy Award.
The filmmakers met in 1986 when both were working for the documentarians David and Albert Maysles. Mr. Sinofsky edited Mr. Berlinger’s short film “Outrageous Taxi Stories,” featuring New York City cabbies, and the two then embarked on their first feature as equal collaborators.
The film, “Brother’s Keeper” (1992), was initially financed with credit cards, Mr. Sinofsky’s second mortgage and Mr. Berlinger’s honeymoon nest egg. Its subject was a family of four semiliterate brothers in rural Munnsville, N.Y., one of whom was accused of suffocating another in his sleep. It won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and was named best documentary by the New York Film Critics Circle.
The filmmakers’ connection to Metallica led to the 2004 film “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.” Beginning as a standard rockumentary, following the band as it put together a new album, it evolved into an almost uncomfortably close examination of combustible creative personalities who end up in therapy to work out their frustrations with one another, especially those between the band’s lead singer, James Hetfield, and drummer, Lars Ulrich.
“Mr. Berlinger and Mr. Sinofsky have uncovered the mysterious dynamic of their collaboration,” the Times critic A. O. Scott wrote of Mr. Hetfield and Mr. Ulrich, “a relationship that is, superficially, both an artistic bond and a business partnership but that is also a deep, bubbling source of identity and anxiety for each man.”
Bruce Jeffrey Sinofsky was born in Boston on March 31, 1956, and grew up in nearby Newton, Mass. His father, Albert, worked for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston. He studied film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Mr. Sinofsky’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Florence Boissinot, whom he married in 1991, he is survived by his mother, the former Beebe Kramer; a brother, Kenneth; a sister, Debra Gibbons; three sons, Alex, Tristan and Luc; and two daughters, Claire and Adeline.
Mr. Sinofsky’s other credits include documentary series for the Sundance Channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, the Public Broadcasting Service and other television outlets.
“He and I talked about how I was the intellectual and he was the humanist,” Mr. Berlinger said in an interview on Monday. “I would see the big picture and he would connect with people. Even in the darkest, most gruesome situations, Bruce projected a warmth and humor that really put people at ease.”