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2012 Sundance: Will New Evidence From ‘West Of Memphis’ Documentary Spark Movement In Murder Case?

Mike Fleming

2012 Sundance: Q&A With ‘West Of Memphis’ Producers Peter Jackson And Fran Walsh

West Of Memphis SundanceEXCLUSIVE: I’m hearing rumblings here in Park City that the Sundance documentary West of Memphis will include some new important evidence obtained within the last month that could have direct bearing on the future of the case. The film, which was directed by Amy Berg and financed by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, re-investigates the infamous 1993 triple child murder in Arkansas that led to the conviction and 18 year incarceration of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, despite the lack of physical evidence. The docu is driven by the results of DNA testing and forensic and other expert investigative work funded by Jackson and Walsh since 2005. On the basis of the evidence and the continued outcry over an unfair prosecution, the defendants were freed last summer after a plea deal in which they were allowed to maintain their innocence while technically pleading guilty to the murders.

Press that screened the film in New York and Los Angeles last Friday were told that a scene was missing from the movie, but weren’t given specifics. I’m hearing the new scene will be included in the print of the film shown for the first time at Sundance this morning at 8:30 AM at a press and industry screening at the Holiday Village. The film has its official premiere today at 4:45 PM at the … Read More »

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2012 Sundance: Q&A With ‘West Of Memphis’ Producers Peter Jackson And Fran Walsh

By | Wednesday January 18, 2012 @ 3:09pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh last came to the Sundance Film Festival in 1993 to debut their splatter film Dead/Alive at a midnight premiere. It was that same year that three boys were murdered in Arkansas, and teens Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were convicted in a sensationalized trial in which prosecutors portrayed them as satanic ritualistic killers. Despite the lack of any physical evidence, the West Memphis 3 were sent to prison for life, with Echols given the death penalty. Jackson and Walsh return to Park City this week to introduce West of Memphis, an Amy Berg-directed documentary. Not only did Jackson and Walsh finance the film (which they produced with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis); much of the docu is based on evidence that came to light after Jackson and Walsh began quietly paying bills for DNA testing, forensic experts and investigators to force a retrial. In the face of overwhelming evidence, the defendants were finally freed after 18 years, forced a accept a plea agreement where the trio maintained innocence, but also pleaded guilty to perhaps the most notorious murders in Arkansas history.

Jackson and Walsh, who are on sabbatical from shooting the two-film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, began paying legal bills just after they wrapped King Kong in 2005. Last Sunday, as Berg hurried to finish the documentary that premieres Friday at the MARC Theatre, Jackson and Walsh took Deadline through a seven-year legal odyssey that grew from a desire to help into one of the high profile Sundance docus, a film Jackson and Walsh hope will help get the West Memphis 3 exonerated. And get a heinous murder case reopened.

DEADLINE: In the documentary, singer Henry Rollins said he related to Damien because he too was a loner and often depressed as a teen. What about Damien Echols or his co-defendants personalized the case for you?
JACKSON: I’ve got a very different background than Damien.  We share a sense of humor and a love of Stephen King and horror.  I wasn’t into black t-shirts and all that, I was much too mild. What I related to came from seeing the original Paradise Lost film, which did a brilliant job at just making you feel angry.  Something very wrong unfolded, not overt, almost insidious.  Institutionalized injustice, where a system decided to convict these guys before they’d even begun a trial, which wasn’t a fair trial anyway.  I just felt that they were ganged up on and didn’t have the means to defend themselves.  When we got involved, the thing that became apparent very quickly was, the best thing we could do to help was bring in what they never had. Funding to get adequate experts.  Expert forensics, expert pathology, expert investigation. At the original trial in ’94, the state could throw anything it wanted at these guys, and they didn’t have the means to defend themselves. There isn’t really anything presented in this movie about the case that couldn’t have been presented in court back then. DNA science certainly wasn’t as advanced, but a lot of these forensic experts would have testified in the trial if they had the means to get them there.  We were not really interested in funding a legal fight; there were thousands of people already contributing money for that. We would focus our funding on paying bills for experts, and to get science involved.

DEADLINE: Had either of you ever taken on a justice crusade like this before?
WALSH: No. We’re not crusaders, at all.

DEADLINE: How much did you spend on the case?
JACKSON: We honestly don’t know.  We’ve been paying our bills on the case since 2005, right along. It’s not like we gave them lump sums of money.  It was more a matter of doing what we needed to get the momentum in the investigation. If there was a piece of evidence that need to be tested, we’d say okay, send that to the lab and we’ll pay the bill.  If there was somebody we wanted to talk to, we’d send the investigator down to get the statement, and we’d pay that bill. I haven’t a clue how much we spent. Read More »

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Hot Sundance Trailer: ‘West Of Memphis’

By | Friday January 13, 2012 @ 12:27pm PST
Mike Fleming

A trailer is up for West Of Memphis, the Amy Berg-directed feature documentary about the Arkansas trial that saw three teens pinned for the brutal 1993 murder of three boys — without a shred of physical evidence. The documentary is produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who spent their own funds to try and uncover the truth and set Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin free. Echols and Lorri Davis are also producers. The defendants were finally let out after nearly 20 years in prison but were not technically exonerated. The film will debut as Sundance on January 20, where it will be eyed for theatrical distribution.

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Peter Jackson Wraps West Memphis 3 Docu

By | Sunday December 4, 2011 @ 4:14pm PST
Mike Fleming

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (December 4, 2011) – WingNut Films proudly announced today the completion of WEST OF MEMPHIS – a documentary film chronicling the untold story behind one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in American history; the story of an extraordinary and desperate fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man.

The film has been produced by first-time filmmakers Damien Echols and Lorri Davis, in collaboration with the Academy Award-winning team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Jackson and Walsh became involved in 2005, when they helped to re-invigorate the then stagnant case by funding a new investigation. The film has been written and directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil).

Starting with a searing examination of the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys – Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, the film goes on to reveal hitherto unknown evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of the other three victims of this shocking crime – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.; all three of whom were teenagers at the time of their arrests and all three of whom spent 18 years and 17 days in prison for crimes they did not

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Peter Jackson Sets First Names For ‘The Hobbit’

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: While Peter Jackson and Warner Bros are figuring out where they’ll shoot back-to-back installments of The Hobbit, Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh have begun to set his cast for the ambitious projects that will begin shooting in February for release in December 2012 and 2013. The castings were announced by New Line Cinema COO/president Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros COO/president Alan Horn, MGM co-CEO Steve Cooper, and Jackson. As Deadline told you last week, Martin Freeman is set to play Bilbo Baggins, the adventurous Hobbit whose adventures and discovery of the One Ring leads the story up to The Lord of the Rings. Freeman has appeared in films ranging from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hot Fuzz to  Love Actually. Read More »

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TOLDJA! Peter Jackson Casting ‘Hobbit’

The Hollywood Reporter has done it again. So I’m embarrassed for the trade paper and any media outlet that stoops to content theft and won’t properly credit Deadline. peter_jackson_hobbit2Back on June 25th, Mike Fleming posted within his scoop about Peter Jackson negotiating to direct both Hobbit films that “he, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens scheduled a trip to London the week of July 4, followed by a trip to Los Angeles the following week. They will meet the most impressive actors who’ve been put on tape by casting directors.” So imagine vacationing Mike’s surprise to get an email alert today from THR claiming an exclusive that “director Peter Jackson is in Los Angeles this week quietly meeting with actors. The casting trip, which also included stops in New York and the U.K…” What makes this even worse is that the THR story doesn’t add one new fact. Nor have I forgotten that, well after Mike posted his initial scoop about Jackson directing the Hobbit films, THR tried to claim that as an exclusive, too.

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