Does justice always prevail? Not always. West of Memphis, an investigative documentary directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and first-time filmmakers Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2012. I’m hoping it makes its way to our Traverse City Film Festival this summer.
West of Memphis is one of those documentaries that I’m sure will be difficult to watch, because it goes against everything we know is true and good in the world. The film tells the inside story behind a desperate fight to unveil the truth, to allow three men — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. — once branded as killers to reclaim their freedom. It chronicles the fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man.
The film begins with an examination of the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys — Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore — in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas. It goes on to uncover new evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of the other three victims of this shocking crime – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. All three were teenagers when they became the target of the police investigation. All three went on to lose 18 years of their lives, imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
How the documentary came to be is a key part of the story of Damien Echols’ fight to save his own life. The film reveals how close he and Davis, along with his legal team, friends and supporters, came to losing that battle. But as Echols, who spent 18 years on death row, has stated “… in the face of such horror, in the face of resounding grief and pain, you cannot give up … you must never give up.”
Think you’re having a bad day? Think about these guys sitting in prison for 18 years for a crime they didn’t commit, wondering how in the world something like that could ever happen in this nation where justice is supposed to prevail.
Read Melanie Votaw’s story on the New York Film Festival, where the HBO documentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third film in a trilogy about the West Memphis Three, screened (and look for that film on HBO, where it’s currently airing). I wondered about the wisdom of making yet another film about the West Memphis Three, but after seeing the trailer below, it definitely feels right.