by Max Brantley
A public relations firm last night began distribution of a news release about a new documentary film, "West of Memphis," on the West Memphis Three case, this one a combined effort of the formerly condemned Damien Echols, his wife Lorri Davis and filmmakers Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh.
It promises new video and information on evidence in the case, said to include information pointing to other suspects in the 1993 slayings of three West Memphis children. The three men convicted in the case were released from prison earlier this year in a plea bargain struck after the state Supreme Court ordered a wide-ranging evidentiary hearing on new information in the case.
UPDATE: The NY Times reports that this film has had some clashing interests with the "Paradise Lost" filmmakers, including over access to key figures in the case. One dispute was over Pam Hobbs, mother of Stevie Branch, one of the slain children.
PS — Nothing posted on Mara Leveritt's blog just yet, but there is a takedown of Arkansas medical examiner Frank Peretti over remarks he made in a recent newspaper interview. Peretti's remarks are not trivial. They provide context for his credibility in every future utterance he makes in any other case.
ACADEMY AWARD-WINNERS PETER JACKSON AND FRAN WALSH ANNOUNCE
A NEW DOCUMENTARY WEST OF MEMPHIS,
DIRECTED BY ACADEMY AWARD-NOMINATED FILMMAKER AMY BERG
PRODUCED BY DAMIEN ECHOLS AND LORRI DAVIS
“It is our hope that this film will help educate people about how badly the justice system can fail us all — but beyond that, we want to show that in the face of such horror, in the face of resounding grief and pain, you cannot give up … you must never give up.” —Damien Echols, November 2011 — Wellington, New Zealand
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (December 4, 2011) — WingNut Films proudly announced today the completion of WEST OF MEMPHIS - a documentary film chronicling the untold story behind one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in American history; the story of an extraordinary and desperate fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man.
The film has been produced by first-time filmmakers Damien Echols and Lorri Davis, in collaboration with the Academy Award-winning team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Jackson and Walsh became involved in 2005, when they helped to re-invigorate the then stagnant case by funding a new investigation. The film has been written and directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil).
Starting with a searing examination of the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys — Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, the film goes on to reveal hitherto unknown evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of the other three victims of this shocking crime — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.; all three of whom were teenagers at the time of their arrests and all three of whom spent 18 years and 17 days in prison for crimes they did not commit.
How the documentary came in to being is in itself a key part of the story of Damien Echols’ fight to save his own life; it reveals how close he and his wife Lorri Davis, along with his legal team, friends and supporters, came to losing that battle.
As Echols has stated: “September 2008 was one of my lowest points. Judge David Burnett had refused to hear any new evidence - this included new DNA testing... as if proof of our innocence was somehow irrelevant. I thought we had come to the end of the line, that there was nowhere else to go. It was at this point that Fran and Peter suggested that maybe there was another way of fighting back... that if the evidence was not going to be allowed to be heard in a court of law, it would be heard in another forum. That was when they said to me and Lorri, ‘We should make a film’.”
WEST OF MEMPHIS reveals the exhaustive research that uncovered startling new findings pointing to the innocence of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley Jr. and includes new forensic evidence that points to other suspects that the West Memphis police chose to overlook. It was this new evidence as highlighted in the documentary that ultimately prompted the Arkansas Supreme Court to overturn previous denials of appeals and allowed for a new evidentiary hearing to proceed.
Faced with the very real prospect of a new trial being granted and in order to avoid potentially large compensation claims for wrongful imprisonment, the State of Arkansas struck a deal with the West Memphis Three, as Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley Jr. had come to be known, whereby the men agreed to enter an Alford plea; an unusual and rarely used legal maneuver through which the defendant is able to assert their innocence whilst accepting it is in their best interest to allow a guilty plea to be entered against them, in exchange for their freedom. The film follows these events and examines how the State Prosecutor’s declaration that the case is now closed, leaves three innocent men convicted of a crime they did not commit and a triple child murderer still at large.
Director Berg says, “This film represents the trial these men didn’t have. With the support of Damien and Lorri, along with unprecedented access to those closest to the case, we were able to make a film that shows the inner workings of the defense - the investigation, research, and appeals process, in a way that has never been shown before. This film began as a study about innocence; but I feel it goes beyond that now — it asks the question, what value do we, as a society, place on the truth?”
Says Jackson, “Seven years ago, Fran and I began this journey with Damien and Lorri, having no idea where it would lead. We now realise, that journey is not over, that even though these men have been released from prison - they are not free. Our hope is that continuing evidence testing and further investigation will lead to the unmasking of the killer of these children and that one day Damien, Jason and Jessie will be exonerated.”
In addition to never before seen footage about the case and the trial, WEST OF MEMPHIS includes interviews with Echols, Davis, Baldwin, Misskelley Jr. and Jackson as well as interviews with friends and families of the victims, defense lawyers, state prosecutors, local law enforcement, judges, forensic experts, journalists, surprise witnesses and prominent supporters including Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Natalie Maines.
Original music for the film has been written by acclaimed songwriters and composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
The film has been Executive Produced by Ken Kamins who will be leading discussions with potential distributors.