Justin Weinstein is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and former scientist. His childhood love of movies was paralleled by a fascination with science and, in the pre-internet Apple II era, with coding and hacking.
He studied Filmmaking at NYU for his BFA, but with the rise of the Human Genome Project turned to genetics as a way to combine his interests in coding and science. Weinstein went on to earn an MA, M.Phil, and PhD in Genetics from Columbia University, where he focused his research on the role of genetic recombination in cancer and aging. Restless with life in the laboratory he turned to documentary filmmaking beginning at the science department of WNET/Thirteen, the New York PBS station. There he worked on documentary shorts on the neurobiology of mental depression and Big Ideas, a documentary on the Institute for Advanced Study hosted by Ira Flatow of Science Friday.
His early work was in broadcast journalism focused on science and environmental subjects, including a 2-hour Peter Jennings Reporting special on life in the universe, the Frontline documentary Hot Politics, about the struggles of the US political system in dealing with climate change, a documentary for Al Jazeera English about mountaintop coal mining, and the ABC News 20/20 Primetime Special Last Days on Earth about global threats to humanity. Most recently, Weinstein has been pursuing more creative storytelling in feature documentaries. He wrote and edited the Being Elmo; A Puppeteer’s Journey, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and for which Weinstein and fellow writer/editor Philip Shane were nominated for The Humanitas Prize which honors "film & television writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way."
His most recent film is the award-winning feature documentary An Honest Liar, a film about truth and deception in the life of the magician, escape artist, and world-renowned skeptic James “the Amazing Randi.” Directed by Weinstein and Tyler Measom, it premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival before winning numerous Jury and Audience Choice Best Documentary awards prior to being released theatrically nationwide. The film, now available on iTunes and other platforms, will also be broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2016. Weinstein also directs for commercial projects and television, executive produces films, and currently has several projects in development including a feature film adaptation of An Honest Liar with Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black) signed on to direct.
What’s Your NativeAdVantage:
What do you do best?
Finding creative solutions I suppose. And clam pasta – I’ve been perfecting a recipe for a white clam sauce over many years.
What makes you the best?
I would not claim to be “the best”. But I would say I’m relentless at making my work the best it can be.
You can have many inspirations and ideas, but it’s necessary to decide which is best to act on and hone to be even better. This means identifying not just what works, but also the problems holding things back from working better. Then you can analyze those problems and come up with creative solutions.
To do this my background in both science and the arts is useful because I can use both sides of my brain, so to speak – and apply analytical rigor combined with open creativity.
How will you become the best?
Keeping an open mind to new possibilities while both expanding and honing my craft. And constantly improving my clam sauce.
What are your aspirations?
To have more free time to be able to nurture other interests and activities, as well as to improve my clam sauce.
To do more smaller projects - commercials and industrial films – alongside my long-form work. Short-form work can be fabulous and can be done in weeks rather than years.
To write and direct narrative films, but not mediocre or unnecessary ones. In general, even a mediocre documentary is valuable for its content or for exposing audiences to new issues. Mediocre narrative films, on the other hand, just feel useless. I never want to make a film whose existence feels unnecessary.
What fascinates you?
The intricate and miraculous way biological life works
How people can tenaciously hold beliefs about things that are demonstrably untrue
The art of visual storytelling
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. (Einstein, not me.)
Too hard to choose. I’ll go with my dog, Tako.
Jungles like Mulu in Borneo. Desert landscapes, like the Negev and Sinai, parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Italy, especially the countryside. New York City. A dark movie theater right before the film begins.
Good cured pork products like Prosciutto and wild boar salami, stinky cheeses, strong Belgian beer.
Watching and making movies, good books, human rights, cooking and eating shellfish and crustaceans.