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Sony Pictures Classics Nabs Peter Jackson's Sundance Doc 'West of Memphis'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 29, 2012 at 7:29PM

It may be the fourth documentary about the famed "West Memphis Three," but "West of Memphis," which debuted well at Sundance this January, was the one that got three innocent men out of jail after 18 years on Death Row.
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It may be the fourth documentary about the famed "West Memphis Three," but "West of Memphis," which debuted well at Sundance this January, was the one that got three innocent men out of jail after 18 years on Death Row.

Peter Jackson and Amy Berg of "West of Memphis"
Peter Jackson and Amy Berg of "West of Memphis"

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to Amy Berg’s "West of Memphis," produced by "Lord of the Rings" filmmakers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, and Damien Echols, one of the freed Memphis Three, and his wife Lorri Davis. (Here's TOH's Sundance coverage.)

The documentary chronicles the Jackson and Walsh-funded new investigation surrounding the “West Memphis Three” which led to new evidence that helped to free three incarcerated innocent men: Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.

HBO also funded three "Paradise Lost" films that tracked the case for almost two decades and led Jackson and Walsh to join the activist movement to get the three men out of jail. "Paradise 3" (pictured) was nominated for an Oscar this year, and Baldwin walked the red carpet.

"Paradise Lost's" Joe Berlinger, Jason Baldwin, and Bruce Sinofsky
"Paradise Lost's" Joe Berlinger, Jason Baldwin, and Bruce Sinofsky

SPC negotiated the deal with Jackson and Walsh's manager, Ken Kamins, who is the film's executive producer and worked with the company on John Boorman's "The General." SPC just picked up two Oscars, for "Midnight in Paris" and "A Separation."

Stated Berg ("Deliver Us From Evil"):

“In 2009 Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Lorri Davis approached me to make a film which documented the defense's battle to overturn the guilty verdicts in the case of the West Memphis Three. After spending more than two years on the ground filming in Arkansas, the blatant injustice of the case was very apparent; my hope is that WEST OF MEMPHIS will lead to full exoneration for Damien, Jason and Jessie. In addition, I hope the film will serve as a platform for a broader discussion about the failures of our criminal justice system nationwide. I'm very excited for this powerful story to be making its way to theaters and know that having Sony Pictures Classics as our partner is the surest way to catapult our film to the widest possible audience."

Stated producers Walsh and Jackson, who sought a distributor who would reach the widest possible audience:

"We are very proud to be partnering with Sony Pictures Classics on the release of WEST OF MEMPHIS. We have been working with Lorri Davis, Damien Echols and his defense team for the past seven years, and during that time we came to understand that this was not just a story of a terrible injustice; it's also a story about hope; about how two people found each other, saved each other, and loved each other through the hardest of times. This is Damien and Lorri's film, and we are very excited to share it with the world."

Stated producers Echols and Davis:

“We are honored that Sony Pictures Classics will be working with us to bring WEST OF MEMPHIS to the world. We are excited and quite frankly overwhelmed at the chance to tell our own story. Working with Fran, Peter and Amy has been the most powerful and fulfilling of experiences for us. We see this film as a source of inspiration, and it carries our heart and soul with it."
 

This article is related to: Sundance, Festivals, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.