The campaign to free the West Memphis Three, the men convicted of the 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas, drew a lot of support from Hollywood, so perhaps it isn't surprising that in the next year or so we'll see not one, but two new films about their case. Both of these projects have been in the work for years, but now those behind the films have the very happy task of retooling the endings.
As Damien Echols says in the chilling trailer for Paradise Lost 3, which was released this weekend, if it hadn't been for the two previous HBO documentaries, there's a very good chance that he would have been executed long ago. The third installment was already scheduled to premiere next month at the Toronto Film Festival, then run on HBO in November. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky say that they were editing the movie when they got the news that Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were being released in a strange plea agreement that involved pleading guilty while maintaining their innocence. After a quick trip to Arkansas, they're now back in New York frantically trying to put together a new conclusion. "What better gift to a filmmaker than to see all this work come out like this," Berlinger told TheWrap. "It's an amazing moment."
Presumably Berlinger and Sinofsky are mostly excited about seeing justice (sort-of) served in a case they've documented for 18 years, but for the filmmakers there's an added benefit to the release of the West Memphis Three: The film could now be an Oscar contender. HBO has rescheduled the premiere for January, and it will have a limited theatrical run this fall. According to the Hollywood Reporter, this allows Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory to qualify for an Academy Award. There's reason to think it could be nominated, as Paradise Lost won and Emmy and a Peabody Award and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations was nominated for an Emmy.
In addition to the documentaries, there's also a dramatic film based on investigative reporter Mara Leveritt's 2003 book, which is set to start filming this spring. From Deadline:
Devil's Knot is an under $20 million feature that has The Sweet Hereafter and Chloe director Atom Egoyan aboard to direct a script that was originally written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman, the team behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Having someone familiar with horror films is probably fitting, considering not only what the West Memphis Three endured, but the fact that we still don't know who actually did commit the crime. Berlinger says:
"We shouldn't forget three families lost three 8-year-old children, and the decision to insist these guys are guilty means the police consider this case closed, which also means they're not looking for the real killer ... So we have an unsolved crime now and the state of Arkansas is washing its hands."
'Paradise Lost' Filmmaker: 'West Memphis Three' Deserve Full Exoneration [The Wrap]
'Paradise Lost 3' Set For Oscar-Qualifying Theatrical Release (Exclusive)
West Memphis 3 Feature Film Eyes Spring Shoot With Atom Egoyan Directing [Deadline]