When Paradise Lost 3 premieres on HBO on Thursday, it will be the same smart, cogent doc that was shown at the New York Film Festival last fall: the absorbing story of the West Memphis 3, who were wrongly accused of murder as teenagers and recently freed after nearly 20 years in prison. But now the film arrives shadowed by some unexpected competition: the documentary West of Memphis, produced by Peter Jackson and his wife and partner Fran Walsh. Even more interestingly, producer credits also go to Damien Echols, the West Memphis teenager had been sentenced to death, and his wife, Lorri Davis.
One line in Paradise Lost 3 – the third film in a trilogy that begin in 1996 – now lands as strangely off-kilter. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky visit Echols in prison in 2009 and he tells them, “I really do believe these people would have gotten away with murdering me if it had not been for what you guys did, for being there in the very beginning and getting the whole thing on tape so that the rest of the world sees what was happening.” Not at all incompatible with producing a film with another director, but it does sound slightly odd now. (That’s Berlinger with Echols in the photo above, after a screening of Paradise Lost 3.)
West of Memphis, directed by Amy Berg, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. (Here’s a thorough NY Times piece about the competition between the films.) Whatever that newer doc contains, there’s every reason to watch Berlinger and Sinofsky’s passionate film, which is as much about justice and the failures of the legal system as it is about the accused men. (Update: They’ve just been nominated in the DGA’s best director of documentaries category.) The directors sleekly fill in the background so Paradise Lost 3 stands on its own, but HBO will also show the two earlier films, Paradise Lost (1996) and Paradise Lost 2 (2000) following the new film’s premiere on Thursday.
If you missed it, here’s my full review from the NY Film Festival, and a clip of Echols and Davis interviewed by Piers Morgan.