Written by Billy McMillan and Amy Berg
Directed by Amy Berg
Despite the abundance of information available on the subject of the West Memphis Three, I had not heard anything of them myself until last year, when a third documentary in an HBO series on the subject (PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY) began getting notice on the festival circuit. That film went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature but if any one film is going to shed some light on the West Memphis Three, it will be the all new, Peter Jackson produced documentary, WEST OF MEMPHIS. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, it may seem at first like too much to take, but it is fascinating and devastating from start to finish.
In 1993, three young boys under the age of 10, were killed in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three older boys, none older than 18, were accused of the crime, and of being Satanists, and subsequently convicted. The oldest of the three boys, Damien Echols, was sentenced to death. At the time, the parents of the victims were satisfied with the results of the trial and the case was closed. Closing the case though made the evidence gathered public knowledge and it started to become obvious to many followers of the case that there was just no way these three teenagers could have murdered those three young boys. Some evidence was ignored while other evidence was seemingly planted and meanwhile, three young men would go on to spend 20 years of their lives in prison, while the real killer continued to live free.
With Echols’s life at actual risk, the case garnered the attention of celebrities across the nation and, as it turns out in the case of Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, across the planet. Jackson and Walsh were serious financial contributors to the West Memphis Three appeal initiative and are both producers on WEST OF MEMPHIS. Their clout brings attention to the film, which is what is most important now, so that these boys can have their story told. As their story unfolds, with new evidence rejected by former judges concerned about admitting liability, and almost undeniable alternatives to the crime surfacing, it is constantly shocking to see how difficult their struggle to freedom has been. And Oscar-nominated director, Amy Berg, captures that journey, however tortured and painful it is, perfectly with this film.