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Specialty B.O.: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘Amour’ Stellar In 2nd Weekend; ‘West Of Memphis’ OK In Debut, ‘Promised Land’ Soft

By | Sunday December 30, 2012 @ 10:24am PST

Brian Brooks is Managing Editor of MovieLine.

Sony/Columbia Pictures’ limited-run engagement of Zero Dark Thirty showed impressive stamina, and the studio’s specialty market distributor Sony Pictures Classics also had great news for Amour but not so great news for newcommer West Of Memphis in three-day estimates for the pre-New Year’s weekend, while Focus Features debut Promised Land bowed modestly. Columbia Pictures’ Zero Dark Thirty averaged a muscular $65K per location in its sophomore weekend in 5 theaters compared with $82K per cinema last weekend. Sony Classics’ Palme d’Or winner and Oscar short-listed foreign-language hopeful Amour held steady in three theaters in its second weekend, averaging a very strong $20K vs. its $23,554 average debut. Specialty market newcomers Promised Land, starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Frances McDormand headed into 25 theaters, averaging $7,606, while Sony Classics’ doc West Of Memphis managed a slender $2,771 per run in 5 cinemas. SPC’s other non-fiction offering Searching For Sugar Man, now in its 23rd weekend of release, passed the $3 million milestone this weekend. An additional newcomer, Adopt Films’ Tabu, took in $5,300 in one theater. Read More »

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Specialty B.O. Preview: ‘Promised Land’, ‘West Of Memphis’, ‘Allegiance’, ‘Tabu’

By | Friday December 28, 2012 @ 5:32pm PST

Brian Brooks is Managing Editor of MovieLine.

Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant collaborate on their third project together, Promised Land, headlining the holiday weekend’s specialty releases and the final round of newcomers for 2012.  Van Sant came in as director after Damon tapped him to spearhead the film, which is set in small town Pennsylvania. Also headed to theaters is Sony Pictures ClassicsWest Of Memphis, the latest film centered on the so-called Memphis Three who many believe were wrongly convicted of a grisly murder in a notorious miscarriage of justice. The military takes the spotlight in Allegiance with Aidan Quinn and Bow Wow, which opens via XLrator Media and Adopt Films opens its foreign-language Berlin ’12 pick-up Tabu.

Promised Land
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: John Krasinski, Matt Damon, Dave Eggers (story)
Cast: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook, Rosemarie DeWitt
Distributor: Focus Features

Focus Features came on board with Promised Land after the script was completed in partnership with Participant Media. The story moved from an Alaska mining operation backdrop to a small town in Pennsylvania, which must choose whether to allow an energy company to extract natural gas through the controversial method popularly known as “fracking.” Matt Damon originally was set to direct the film but his schedule made it impossible. He reached out to Gus Van Sant with whom he worked with on Good Will Hunting and Gerry to take on the project. Read More »

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OSCARS: Will Docu Finalists Stop The Bleeding In This Battered Branch?

By | Tuesday December 4, 2012 @ 1:43am PST
Pete Hammond

The release of the documentary short list of 15 finalists is seen as a litmus test for new doc branch rules that opened up the Oscars process to the entire peer group and, in theory, would make it easier for more popular, perhaps populist, docs to make the cut. The previous voting setup was broken into several groups of documentarians voting only on the select list of films they had been sent. Now it’s up to everyone in the branch to see all the entries and vote as a group. Stringent new rules put in place for the first time this year required entries to be exhibited prominently in LA and NY for at least one week with a minimum of two shows a day. And it had to be reviewed by at least one newspaper: the Los Angeles Times or The New York Times. It was thought these basic rule changes would discourage the proliferation of faux docs (TV docs trying to pass themselves off as features) that started taking over the category and, in many cases, scoring nominations. It was thought that enacting these new rules would considerably lessen the number of entries. But in fact this year saw those TV docs finding ways to skirt the new rules. So the number of overall entries even increased. This put a tremendous burden on the already overworked branch members who now found they had as many as 80 docs at one time dropped in their … Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘West Of Memphis’

By | Friday November 2, 2012 @ 2:51pm PDT

The Amy Berg-directed documentary West Of Memphis — about the now-famous trial, conviction and eventual release of the West Memphis 3 — is largely based on private investigators and forensic testing financed by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. The pair produced the docu with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. Some of the evidence presented paints an overwhelming picture that the trio was railroaded while the killer of three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1994 remains free. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing West Of Memphis on December 25.

Related: Q&A With ‘West Of Memphis’ Producers Jackson And Walsh

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Toronto: ‘West Of Memphis’ Gets Fest Preem; Johnny Depp And Natalie Maines To Join Filmmakers

Mike Fleming

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

BREAKING: West of Memphis, the Amy Berg-directed documentary that was one of the highlights of the last Sundance Film Festival, will join the Mavericks section of the 2012 Toronto Film Festival. The film, which is largely based on private investigators and forensic testing financed by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (they produce with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis), will get a premiere. There to help the filmmakers launch the film and participate in the press conference and Q&A will be Johnny Depp and Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines. Both have been longtime supporters of a retrial for Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr, who were convicted of triple homicide even though there was not a shred of physical evidence. Depp also acquired the upcoming memoir by Echols for a feature. The sham of that original trial was captured in the HBO docu Paradise Lost, which became a trilogy and which sparked Jackson and Walsh’s interest in the case years ago. The defendants were finally let out of prison after nearly two decades in Arkansas after prosecutors granted them an Alford plea (technically pleading “guilty” while vehemently denying they committed the crime). All parties are still pressing for an outright exoneration, but the state has refused … Read More »

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Sony Classics Takes Worldwide Rights to ‘West Of Memphis’

By | Wednesday February 29, 2012 @ 3:52pm PST

The high-profile documentary directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) debuted at the recent Sundance Film Festival. Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson produced the film with first-time producers Damien Echols (a subject of the film) and Lorri Davis. West Of Memphis centers on the new investigation surrounding the the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in the town of West Memphis, Ark., that ultimately broke the case open and led to the release of the so-called West Memphis 3 — Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. The film examines the flawed police investigation and reveals personal insight into Echols’ fight to save his own life from Death Row. SPC negotiated the deal with Jackson and Walsh’s manager, Ken Kamins, who also serves as the film’s executive producer. Sony Pictures Classics has previously worked with Kamins on John Boorman’s The General.

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BREAKING: ‘West Of Memphis’ Unveils New Witnesses In Murder Case

By | Friday January 20, 2012 @ 9:30am PST
Mike Fleming

West Of Memphis DocumentaryThis 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.”

Read More »

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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

Read More »

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