Peter Jackson Wraps Production on 'West of Memphis' Documentary
This past August, headlines exploded with news that the murder defendants known as the West Memphis 3 were released from prison after 18 years. The three men were imprisoned for the murder of three 8-year old boys who were found hog-tied in a drainage ditch. However, new DNA evidence seemed to prove the trio's innocence, this resulting in their release from prison. While a feature film adaptation about the case was planned with Chloe director Atom Egoyan behind the project, filmmaker Peter Jackson and his WingNut Films banner have completed a documentary on the topic called West of Memphis. More below!
A press release (via Deadline) announced a wrap on production from first-time filmmakers Damien Echols (one of the convicted men) and Lorri Davis producing along with Jackson and Fran Walsh. The film itself is written and directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil). Aside from producing, Jackson and Walsh also became involved with the case itself in 2005 when they helped to re-invigorate the then stagnant case by funding a new investigation. Though that might create a slight conflict of interest under normal circumstances, the results of the case clearly show that their efforts were necessary. In fact, it's said that how the documentary came in to being is in itself a key part of the story of 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.
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. The film's director 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?”
Jackson hopes the documentary keep the investigation strong in people's minds saying, "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.” The documentary couldn't have come at a better time and it sounds like a riveting real-life tale that all should see. Stay tuned.