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West of Memphis is an examination of a failure of justice in Arkansas. The documentary tells the hitherto unknown story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light. Told and made by those who lived it, the filmmakers' unprecedented access to the inner workings of the defense, allows the film to show the investigation, research and appeals process in a way that has never been seen before; revealing shocking and disturbing new information about a case that still haunts the American South. Written by
Damien Wayne Echols:
The thing I like most about time is that it's not real. It's all in the head. Sure, it's a useful trick if you wanna meet someone at a specific place in the universe to have tea or coffee. But that's all it is, a trick. There's no such thing as the past, it exists only in the memory. There's no such thing as the future, it exists only in our imagination. If our watches were truly accurate the only thing they would ever say is now.
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Infuriating, depressing and horrifying but also ultimately inspiring.
'WEST OF MEMPHIS': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
A documentary film on the West Memphis Three case, in which three teenage outcasts (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley) were arrested and charged with the murder of three 8-year old boys (Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore), despite the lack of any conclusive evidence and apparent police and prosecutor misconduct. The boys spent eighteen years in prison and were released in August of 2011 as part of a deal reached with prosecutors due to new evidence. The film was directed and co-written (along with Billy McMillin) by Amy Berg (who also directed the 2006 documentary 'DELIVER US FROM EVIL', about the Catholic Church's cover up of a priest's sexual abuse, towards dozens of young boys, in the 70s). It was produced by Berg, Echols and Lori Davis as well as filmmakers Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh. The movie is heartbreaking, frustrating and very disturbing but it's also inspiring in the way it shows how many people came forward to support justice and the freeing of these (presumably) wrongfully convicted men.
The film tells the story of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley (known as 'The West Memphis Three'), who were tried and convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death and the other two were sentenced to life imprisonment. The prosecution claimed that the three misfits killed the young boys as part of a satanic ritual but had no physical evidence to backup their claim. They were convicted on a theory, a forced confession of a mentally handicap teen (Misskelley) and the testimony of some shady witnesses (who later retracted their statements and admitted they were lying). Multiple HBO documentaries have been made on the subject which have motivated many to come forward in defense of the accused, including several celebrities (like Jackson, Walsh, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp to name a few). New forensic evidence allowed a deal to be reached with prosecutors where 'The Memphis Three' were released from prison under time served (18 years) due to Alford pleas (which allowed the three to maintain their innocence while admitting that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them (a disgraceful way for the prosecution to avoid the embarrassment of a retrial and admitting they were wrong). The events of the entire ordeal are explained in detail through interviews with several of those involved. There's also a lot of evidence provided pointing to the most likely killer of the three young boys (Steven Branch's stepfather Terry Hobbs).
The film is the classic tale of people in power taking advantage of the weak that can't defend themselves (three misfit teens in this case) and society exploiting someone for looking different and acting 'weird' (therefore he's 'creepy' and there must be something wrong with him). This sort of thing happens all the time, this is just one of those times it's been brought to the public's attention. Which is a good enough reason, on it's own, why no one (with any morals of any kind) should support the death penalty. The movie is infuriating, depressing and horrifying but it's also ultimately inspiring. It's also very relatable, to some, and shows how people that are different are often used and abused by society. That's why so many musicians and other celebrities felt for these young men and got involved in trying to help them. It's a movie that we can all learn a lot from. It still leaves a lot of questions and doesn't reach a completely satisfying conclusion (because one wasn't reached in real life) but the filmmakers did about as good a job bringing this story to light (in more detail, to the masses) as they possibly could. A must see!
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