Mike Fleming

While Paradise Lost documentary directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky told me last night they intended to change the ending of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory to reflect today’s stunning developments before they premiered the movie at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmakers have instead decided to leave the film alone for Toronto and install a new ending for the New York Film Festival in October, or even for its January debut on HBO. The filmmakers rushed to Arkansas last night to film defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr as they tasted freedom after 18 years. Berlinger and Sinofsky were nearly done with their third documentary on the case, which they feel was a tremendous travesty of justice that left Echols on death row and the other two serving life terms for the brutal murder of three 8-year-old boys in 1993. Those convictions were made without any physical evidence.

“We’ve made the decision to let the film play as is in Toronto,” Berlinger just told me. “We worked on it for a long time and it didn’t seem right to rush a new ending. We’ll tack on one more scene that changes the ending from a question mark to a joyous triumphant moment, but we’ll aim for the New York Film Festival or for HBO.”

Berlinger said he and his film making partner were elated by today’s developments but disappointed the trio had to plead guilty with time served in order to get out of prison. “That the state of Arkansas did not have the courage to exonerate them and admit they made a mistake was shameful,” Berlinger said. “These guys still have murder convictions hanging over their heads, and that will be there for the rest of their lives. And at the Arkansas press conference, they maintained these guys were guilty, and washed their hands of accountability. The real killers are still out there. It was a cover your ass deal to make sure there would be no lawsuit for a wrongful conviction. Damien was on death row for 17 years, hasn’t seen sunlight in the last 7 or 8 years and was by all reports terribly treated. To not be able to seek compensation is just wrong. But we’re about to go to a party for them in the penthouse of a hotel, and it is quite surreal.”

Berlinger said that while he was in the courtroom today, he brought in a small camera he wanted to turn on at the end of the hearing. “There was a pool feed but no cameras allowed but I anticipated there would be big applause and wanted to capture it at the end,” Berlinger said. “I was grabbed by a sheriff’s deputy, pulled out of the courtroom, made to stay in a corner flanked by two sheriff deputies. Everybody exited to go to the press conference while I had to wait to explain myself to a judge. I thought it might be the ultimate irony that after all these years, Damien and the other two would be free men while I would be forced to spend the night in an Arkansas jail. I was able to persuade the judge that I hadn’t violated the court order and I was finally let go.”