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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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MS: How do you create a life for you and Damien after something like this? I mean you live in the city now, you can disappear in the city, but you gotta figure out how to make a living -- how do you go through the day?

LD:  It’s just day by day. We actually out of the city in September, and we’ve been in our house just two weeks. We’ve been on the road for the past three months, actually for the last year. So every day just becomes about getting this message out, talking about this case and this film, our film, and Damien’s book.  That’s what our lives are right now. Whatever the future holds, we’re just looking forward to it.

MS: Was the film completely funded by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson?

AB: Yes. It’s an independent film.

MS: What was it like getting that phone call? Did Fran call you first? Did Peter call you first?

AB: It was an email.  It was a combination of flattery and curiosity, and just like the pure heaviness of this case and this story.

MS: Do you feel a lot of responsibility?

AB: Huge responsibility, and that was before I ever talked to Lori.  I know for me, at least, once you start incorporating real people and real discussions and meetings and all that then it’s like you fall in love.  I did take 6 months to really go thorough the evidence and the case and I needed to eliminate any sense of doubt before I could take this on because obviously the people involved all believed in his innocence. I had to come to that place on my own without any kind of bias.

MS: Lorri - what was it like for you, like, to have Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh get involved in this case? How did they find out about this?

LD: It changed the dynamics of everything. They first sent a donation to the legal defense fund through the internet in 2005. And I was just stunned.

MS: I assume they used their real names?

LD: They did. And then they sent a note that said, “If there’s anything we can do from New Zealand, please let us know.”  I’m sure they just rue the day they sent that note, because I was on it immediately.  I wrote to them and explained where we were because the case was going nowhere at that point, and we desperately needed help. Little did I know that they were legal geniuses. Fran had an unbelievable knowledge of how to put a case together. And that’s what we did.

MS: She writes scripts.

LD: They both were helpful in a lot of ways. But Fran was in there, she was in the day to day sending me out to gather evidence out of garbage cans in Memphis. Like it’s the easiest thing to do. She’s like, “Figure it out, figure out when these people are putting their garbage out.” Which I had to look up, but that’s a whole other story. It was gross.

MS: When did you finally meet them?

LD: I think it was the King Kong premiere which was December 2005?

MS: So you had been talking to them for a couple months.

LD: For months. Fran was very smart about it, they both were. And they took the time to correspond with me and Damien, so they knew what they were getting into.

AB: I think it’s important to point out that for the earlier discussions and conversations that were had that they were very particular about not having their name associated.

LD: They were, yeah. I had to promise not to discuss them publicly, and I had so much respect for that.

MS: And they clearly wanted to step out and be a part of it, which is amazing.

AB: But it was also the same arrangement with me on starting the film. It’s important because they felt their involvement would actually hurt Damien.

MS: Fascinating. And this film’s rolling out on Christmas Day. Any thoughts on that?

AB: First of all I think it’s a great release date if you think about people being off work and having time to really digest something and get involved in a cause. The holidays it’s not just about happiness.  There are a lot of people that are in need who don’t have that Christmas. But also it’s an inspiring love story, and so I think it’s important to not just stress the heaviness.

LD: And I think another important thing is that the films over the holidays really do get people talking. They’re spending time with their family, they’ve got time off. We wanted people to start talking about it.

MS: What advice do you have for other female filmmakers, especially documentarians, in terms of their work?

AB: We have a corner on that market. And I think that if you have an idea and you have passion for something, that you should go for it. I think that there’s no better way to make a living if you can do it. It’s just so fulfilling.

MS: And Lorri, you’re now a film producer. Do you want to make more movies, or do you want to just get on with your life and put this stuff behind you?

LD: I think we’re—I think we’re definitely gonna make one more, and work with Amy on it. It’s an extraordinary experience. All the things that I learned. But like Amy said it’s so rewarding in the end. And wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

MS: How are Damien’s eyes?

LD: He’s trying to go without the glasses more and more. They are getting better, but it’s going to take awhile. As is everything about his health and his reentrance into the world. It could take a few years.

MS: What are the hardest things for him to adjust to?

LD: The hardest thing was contact with people, navigation, it’s the little things.  The world has changed so much. He was an 18 year old. He was a kid when he went in and he came out an adult and he was expected to understand. I sent him to the bank one day. And I said, “Could you fill out this deposit slip?” And he would never say to me, “I don’t know how to do that.” He’ll go and try to do it. But he gets there and he hasn’t the slightest idea how to go to the bank or fill out a deposit slip.

MS: Probably didn’t have ATM cards when he went to jail.

LD: They didn’t. None of us realized what he was going through in those first few months.

MS: Are you still in touch with the other guys?

LD: He and Jason text each other. And Jesse, we didn’t really know Jesse that well, but we do hear that he is having a harder time than Jason and Damien. The transition is gonna be tough for him.

AB: He’s so close to where everything happened that he could get pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign and end up in prison again. Because the cops are so corrupt down there. They’ll pull you over and then just drop a bag of pot in the car.

West of Memphis opens on Christmas Day.
 

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