EXCLUSIVE: Johnny Depp and his producing partner Christi Dembrowski and their Infinitum Nihil production shingle have yet another interesting project in development. They’ve optioned film rights to the soon-to-be-published and as-yet-untitled book by Damien Echols which reveals his experiences on death row after his wrongful conviction and subsequent wrongful 18-year imprisonment for the 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The memoir will be published in September 2012 by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Books. The injustice of the West Memphis Three story drew badly needed support from the entertainment community’s Peter Jackson, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Henry Rollins, and of course Depp. The actor and his producing partner have long been wanting and waiting to explore this story and will develop the narrative as a feature film with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, who will be executive producers. Their collective take is to spotlight the controversial conviction and imprisonment of the then 18-year-old who’s now in his mid-30s and to present his life before conviction as well its twists and turns leading to release.
This morning, I reported rumblings I’d heard that the Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh-financed Sundance documentary West Of Memphis would likely drop some revelations that could provoke the state of Arkansas to take a closer look at the 1993 murder of three youths that was originally pinned on West Memphis 3 defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. The film’s first press screening is still going on, but a release has just been sent out from Echols’ legal team about the new revelations that are in the Amy Berg-directed film and came from a WM3 tipline arranged by the legal team fighting to get the three defendants exonerated. Here is the release:
(Mountain Home, Arkansas – January 20, 2012) Terry Hobbs’ nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., allegedly told his friends “my uncle Terry murdered those three little boys,” according to declarations under penalty of perjury recently given to Damien Echols’ defense team. The three new witnesses were polygraphed about what they stated Michael Hobbs, Jr. told them.
“One day Michael picked us up in his truck. He was very quiet and upset. Michael then said to us, ‘you are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.’ According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.”
Peter Jackson disclosed Friday that he was working with one of the West Memphis 3 toward obtaining a full pardon. “We’re doing investigative work, we’re doing forensic work,” Jackson said, for “the purpose of getting a complete pardon” for Damien Echols. Jackson disclosed that Echols was in New Zealand at a press conference to announce that the first of the director’s two movies based on The Hobbit would have its world premiere in Wellington. Jackson received an exemption from New Zealand law to allow Echols to visit. Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh have been working for several years to help free Echols, who along with Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley were released in August after serving 18 years in prison for the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Convicted of the murders, they continued to maintain their innocence but pleaded guilty to lesser charges to gain release from prison. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, third of three documentaries about their plight, screened earlier this month at the New York Film Festival after it was recut to include their release. It is scheduled to debut on HBO in January.
The West Memphis 3 will get to see in person the recut version of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary about them — the one that has been recut to reflect the trio’s release from jail after 18 years served for the murders of three Arkansas 8-year-olds in 1993. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is screening for the first time in its newest version Monday at the New York Film Festival, and Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr will be there, the fest’s organizer the Film Society of Lincoln Center said today. The original version of the HBO Documentary Films pic screened as-is during last month’s Toronto International Film Festival as the filmmakers didn’t have time to add the fresh ending, which showed the men’s release. The trio’s original conviction — derived despite the lack of physical evidence tying the then-teenagers to the murders — became a cause celebre, and the West Memphis 3 have received moral and financial support from the likes of The Hobbit director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines. Meanwhile, there already is a feature film in the works with Atom Egoyan directing; Devil’s Knot is set to begin shooting in the spring.
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.”
EXCLUSIVE: After the West Memphis 3 murder defendants were released from prison today after 18 years, it seemed like just a matter of time before the movie crowd got involved because the case is so controversial and became a cause celebre with the likes of Johnny Depp and Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Turns out that there is a feature film that already has a screenplay and a major director, ready to start production by the spring. Devil’s Knot is an under $20 million feature that has The Sweet Hereafter and Chloe director Atom Egoyan aboard to direct a script that was originally written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman, the team behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Egoyan has spent the last six weeks working with Boardman on a rewrite.