Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) and his partner, screenwriter and producer Fran Walsh, found director Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) to make the new documentary, West of Memphis, about the three teenagers imprisoned for a triple murder of eight-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Paradise Lost, a trilogy of documentaries, have already been made about the bizarre case, but in this one, new evidence is uncovered. Also Damien Echols, who was sentenced to death row and spent 18 years in prison for the murders, produced the documentary with his wife, Lorri Davis.
In a phone interview, Echols said this movie differed because it was a real investigation into the case and because of his and Davis’ involvement.
“We allowed Amy into our lives in a way we never would have with anyone else,” he said. “We were always very wary of anyone who would sensationalize it or make it look like a train wreck. But when you’re working on your own project, you don’t feel that sense of danger.”
The “West Memphis Three,” as they were known, took the very unusual Alford plea in 2011. This meant they could assert their innocence while pleading guilty to get out of jail. Echols grew up poor and says that the police in West Memphis, Arkansas, targeted him for his black clothes and taste in music and books. That’s part of the reason that some people have been so moved by his case, he says. Along with Jackson, other celebrities who got involved with the case include singer Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Henry Rollins of Black Flag and actor Johnny Depp.
Echols says many of these people identified with him as an outcast.
“It sort of made them realize if it could be done to me, it could be done to them,” Echols said. “They wanted to stop bullying is what it really comes down to. They saw someone on the verge of being murdered for not fitting in with the crowd in the area.”
Going through the process of making the movie and now, promoting it has been painful, Echols says.
“Yesterday we did 26 interviews,” he said. “All day long you sit and you talk about the most horrific thing that’s happened to you over and over.”
It’s worth it to get an end to the story he can live with, Echols says.
“Our goal is for us to be exonerated, for the person who did this to be in prison, and for the officials who did this to us to be held responsible,” he said. “If we just let this fade away, that will never happen. We have to let the state of Arkansas know continuously that we’re not going anywhere until they do the right thing.”
Echols says in spite of all the delays, he believes that will eventually happen.
“We’re not going to give up,” he said. “And when you absolutely refuse to give up no matter what, then sooner of later you do win.”