Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, Bhutto) examines the case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., the West Memphis, Ark., teenagers who in 1994 were found guilty of killing three 8-year-old boys on the flimsiest of evidence. The men were released from prison in 2011 after mounting public uproar, first ignited by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's 1996 doc Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.
Last year, Scene writer Adam Gold had a chance to speak with Echols, Baldwin and Berg. An excerpt, after the jump:
Amy Berg, director, West of Memphis
How did you get involved in this project? Had you followed the case of the West Memphis Three before getting involved?
I got a phone call regarding this project at the end of 2008 from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who had been investigating this case financially and with their time as well. [They] had presented a new wealth of information to [trial and appeals Judge] David Burnett. This was Damien's last state appeal. [Burnett] denied everything. So they could not be heard in the courts. They decided to make a documentary. They called me. I had not been following the case at all. I had not seen Paradise Lost at that point.
I watched the film right after I got the call from them, and it's very important for me that you get that. Please include that I've seen the film, because I've been misquoted a couple of times on that. I hadn't seen it in 2008 when they called me, but I quickly watched Paradise Lost and read [Mara Leveritt's book] Devil's Knot to try and get to get some background on the case. And then I started talking with Peter and Lorri Davis and Damien Echols at that time.
What was the biggest challenge in setting out to make documentary on a story that is already so well-documented?
Well, the story is well-documented as it pertains to the case in 1994. But what's happened since then didn't really get a lot of coverage until the time that I went down there. Not because I was down there, but it had just been in a holding pattern for 10 years at that point. So it was kind of like this interesting case that promoted a huge question over whether justice was served, but then nothing happened. It was just sitting there. So there wasn't really a challenge in that way.
I wanted to go back into the case and say, "Where are these people? Where is Vicky Hutcheson? Where is Michael Carter? Where is Steve Jones? Where is David Jacoby?" I wanted to talk to all the original players and find out how they felt about it today.
How is the perception of the West Memphis Three, and this case in general, different in West Memphis as opposed to the rest of the world?
When I went down there, all the officials (involved in the case) were dead-set on their conviction — the right people were in prison, they did their jobs, everything was status quo. The people in the town started to feel a bit of a shift on the whole satanic theory. That was the first thing that people [questioned], "I think they did it, but I don't know about that whole satanic thing."
So that was the thing I heard over and over again. And then if you take the overwhelming turtle evidence, the snapping turtle evidence, and all of the experts that have said that these were post-mortem wounds [on the victims], then that kind of means that they didn't get the right guys. And nobody was willing to admit that. They all thought that the turtle theory was this wild tale.
Read the whole story here.