For more than fifteen years, director Joe Berlinger (along with Bruce Sinofsky) has been tracking the tragic story of the West Memphis Three in his "Paradise Lost" documentaries, and late last week bittersweet justice was served: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelle were freed under under a plea deal that will still leave with them the stain of a guilty verdict (all orchestrated so they can't sue for wrongful prosecution) even though they had nothing to do with the horrific child murders. And we'll have more on that in a moment, but for now, Berlinger has a much more lighthearted project on the way that should excite music fans.
Berlinger -- who has taken time between the "Paradise Lost" films to tackle documentaries like "Crude" and "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" -- is currently in post-production on an untitled film, which found him following Paul Simon to South Africa where he reunited with musicians for the 25th anniversary of his seminal album "Graceland." If you haven't heard the album, then you've been living under a rock and need to get yourself to a record store pronto, but it was landmark achievement at the time for many reasons. For Simon, it was a tremendous comeback, ranking as his best-selling album in nearly a decade, and it stormed the charts. It won the 1986 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and in 2007 it was added to the United States National Recording Registry. Moreover, it's a hugely influential piece of work (please see Vampire Weekend) with it's mix of Tex-Mex, zydeco and world music influences (Simon famously flaunted Apartheid-era restrictions to work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo helping launch them to global fame).
"It's all about the musicians he hadn't seen in all these years," Berlinger told 24 Frames. "It's a perfect antidote to the tragedy that ['Paradise Lost'] has been." Berlinger is currently editing the film for what he hopes will be a Sundance premiere, but right now he's busy putting the finishing touches on "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory."
With the surprise announcement of the release of West Memphis Three, Berlinger and Sinofsky are busing getting a new ending together, which won't be ready in time for TIFF but that that New York Film Festival audiences will get to see when the film plays there. And the story may not be over just yet. EW reports that longtime supporters of the West Memphis Three, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, are continuing to fund the West Memphis Three investigation in hopes of finding the real killer (or killers) and finally exonerating the names of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelle from their attachment to the crime.
“When Peter and Fran got involved, they had to decide how to best serve the case,” Jackson's manager Ken Kamins told EW. “Damien, Jason, and Jessie had great public advocates in Eddie [Vedder], Johnny [Depp], Natalie [Maines], Henry [Rollins], 'Paradise Lost,' and everyone else who was raising money and bringing public attention to the case. Peter and Fran, therefore, decided to put their attention into funding and spearheading DNA work, hiring forensic and other experts, plus extensive private investigations into all aspects of the case.”
Because of how closely they got involved with the case and its lawyers, Jackson and Walsh have kept their participation low profile, but the former definitely didn't hide his feelings in a statement posted last week on Facebook, in which he expressed his deep outrage at the ongoing injustice the trio face and the "self righteous" actions of Arkansas State Prosecutor, Scott Ellington.
There's still much more to come in the story of the West Memphis Three, so no surprise that HBO might want more. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Sheila Nevins of HBO Documentaries said, "Don’t tell Joe but maybe there’s another film there. I think we’re ready for Paradise Lost 4." It would certainly be a triumphant capper to the a tragic story if their names can ultimately be cleared. But until then, let the soothing strains of Paul Simon calm your frustrated nerves.