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Interview with Director Amy Berg and Producer Lorri Davis - West of Memphis

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
December 21, 2012 2:00 PM
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West of Memphis is a film that makes you realize that our justice system is not blind.  That if you look different or are poor that you can be caught up in a witch hunt of epic proportions and lose years of your life in jail.   This film is also the story of one woman-  Lorri Davis - who read about the case and then miraculously began writing to and then fell in love and married with Damien Echols while he was on death row.  She worked tirelessly for over a decade to gain his freedom.  Watching this miscarriage of justice just takes your breath away and should make every citizen livid.

Women and Hollywood was able to interview director Amy Berg and producer Lorri Davis.

WaH: Amy, what made you want to make this film?

Amy Berg: First it was the injustice. When you’re talking about the film, it was solely driven by the fact that there were innocent men in prison and there was a terrible injustice that happened within the system. That’s what drove me there. But on a more more creative level I think I was really struck and moved by Lorri and Damien’s love story and I thought that was something that needed to be told, and it just showed how powerful love is in the big scheme of life.

MS: When we see versions of people who fall in love with people in jail they are somewhat like stereotypes. You’re a New Yorker and you gave up your life and went down to Arkansas.  When you started corresponding you were a landscape designer in New York City.

Lorri Davis: Well Damien is extraordinary. When we started writing, the letters that I would get back from him would just spur me on to write another, and next thing I knew we had a thousand letters back and forth. And once we started actually talking on the phone, I’d never met anyone like him. And I was pretty sure I wasn’t ever going to meet anyone like him, and once that starts happening it’s hard to turn back. Unfortunately, there was this whole other big issue tied into him that I had to figure out how to deal with. But little by little, we figured it out.

MS: He’s self educated right?

LD: Yes

MS: He comes off as really smart. And also what I took out of the movie was your drive and your personality. Where did you find that inside of you?

LD: I don’t know. I know I had to work really hard.

MS: Were you alone most of the time.

LD: Most of the time. But Damien and I stayed in really close contact most of the time. And we supported each other through everything. But, as things started developing in the case and the story, we started drawing a lot of attention and a lot of support from people who became really good friends. And making this film with Amy, she was an amazing—we’ve gotten to be friends.

MS:  Talk about what does a movie like this say about our justice system? And, how people are treated when you’re not rich and don't have lots of lawyers and can fight for you?

AB: It says a lot about that. But it also shows how fallible human beings are and how much corruption actually goes on. So in the case of Damien, Jason and Jesse, they would have needed probably some kind of a attorney with a national reputation to fight off what was going on in Arkansas.  It’s such an old boys’ club there and they were fighting tremendous odds because they weren’t being judged on the evidence. They were being judged on emotion. So I don’t know what legal team would have been able to usurp that system.

MS: What was the biggest travesty that you uncovered while doing your research on what was going on?

AB: Well, I think there are so many.  The most visible, tangible travesty was obviously that turtles actually caused the wounds, and that when Vincent DeMayo said “If you look at this autopsy, look at these photos, there’s no depth to these wounds. These are not stab wounds. These are scratch marks.”  There’s no disputing that. If someone took a knife, there would be organ damage. So for me, I’m thinking of all these different things in the case that just hit me over the head. 

MS:  What were the challenges for you in making this film?

AB: Well, there were environmental challenges. It’s extreme weather sometimes, and the drugs -- people who are not coherent that you’re trying to talk to. The disappearance of many of the witnesses, and Arkansas is not a huge state, you can pretty much get across the state in like 7 hours or so, so we were constantly driving 2, 3 hours here, there, knocking on someone’s door to find out they’ve moved.  It's really frustrating. And it takes a lot to drive 3 hours with a crew and then—so that’s why you see lots of beauty shots.

MS: It seems to me that in the beginning of the film for you was a way to get Damien out of jail, but now he’s out, so it must be something else for you. What is the movie for you now?

LD: It’s a few things. It’s first and foremost a way to keep generating interest and pressure on the state so that they can be exonerated. That’s the most important thing.

MS: You are still pushing for that?

LD: Yes. Secondly, Damien and I feel it’s very important that this movie inspire people. Just to do something with their lives or to overcome a huge thing that they may be dealing with. We’re hoping to give some inspiration to people. And we also hope that it brings about more discussion about the problems with our justice system.

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