West Memphis Three: Atom Egoyan Plots Feature; Peter Jackson Responds To Freedom; Third Documentary News

Last week saw the dramatic end to the story of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., aka the West Memphis Three. The trio were the subject of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentary Paradise Lost in 1996. That film told of how the three young men had been tried and convicted for the murders of three 8-year old boys in 1993, despite a lack of any physical evidence. (The three were convicted in part because of supposed Satanist leanings and interests in metal and the occult.) The fact that the three are free is wonderful, but that freedom was obtained not through exoneration, but by pleading guilty to the murders and being released with time served for the 18 years each has spent in prison. It's hardly justice.

Berlinger and Sinofsky were almost finished with their third documentary about the case, and are talking about how the end of the case will be reflected in their film. And Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has announced his plan to make a dramatic feature based on the case. Finally, Peter Jackson, who along with Fran Walsh, Eddie Vedder, Johhny Depp and others contributed to the WM3's defense fund, has responded to the end of the case.

For the past five years, Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman have been working on a script about the West Memphis Three, based in part on Mara Leveritt's 2003 books Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three. And now Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) has announced a plan to direct the film.

He's been working to rewrite the script (with Boardman) for the past six weeks, so it isn't the 'of the moment' cash grab some might assume. That sort of action isn't really in Egoyan's wheelhouse, anyway — he's never been a crassly commercial filmmaker. At this point the project only has life rights deals with some participants, but not the WM3, due to their imprisonment for most of the film's development time. We'll see what happens with that angle as the indie gets fully financed and rolling. [Deadline]

Then there is Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third film by Berlinger and Sinofsky to chronicle the continued legal wrangling of the WM3. The film is set to play the Toronto and New York festivals in the next month. When word came down that the three would be freed last week, the filmmakers went to Arkansas to film the trio as they left prison. At first, there was a plan to change the ending of the third, nearly-complete documentary to take into account the end of the case.

Now, however, Joe Berlinger says the film will play as-is at TIFF, and perhaps have one change for either NYFF or the HBO debut. He told Deadline,

We've made the decision to let the film play as is in Toronto. We worked on it for a long time and it didn't seem right to rush a new ending. We'll tack on one more scene that changes the ending from a question mark to a joyous triumphant moment, but we'll aim for the New York Film Festival or for HBO.

With respect to the granting of freedom, Berlinger said,

That the state of Arkansas did not have the courage to exonerate them and admit they made a mistake was shameful. [...]These guys still have murder convictions hanging over their heads, and that will be there for the rest of their lives. And at the Arkansas press conference, they maintained these guys were guilty, and washed their hands of accountability. The real killers are still out there. It was a cover your ass deal to make sure there would be no lawsuit for a wrongful conviction.

Finally, Peter Jackson responded to the three being freed, essentially echoing Berlinger's comments. His response is quite long, so I won't quote the entirety here, but I will offer this:

But let's not think for a second that justice was served today.  Far from it.  Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are finally free to get on with their lives after spending 18 years in prison in Arkansas for a crime they did not commit, but I'm finding it very difficult to suppress a deep anger.

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