JDIFF 2013: West of Memphis

Gordon Gaffney on the latest ‘West Memphis 3’ documentary West of Memphis, which screened as part of the 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013).

West of Memphis
Friday, 22nd February
Cineworld 11
147 mins

The documentary trilogy Paradise Lost dealt with the grisly murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993, the trial and conviction of three teenagers for the killings, and the subsequent doubts raised of their guilt.

With a combined running time of 5 hours, and directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky of Metallica documentary(and inadvertent comedy) Some Kind Of Monster fame, they were screened on HBO in 1996 and 2000. Part 3 was also released in cinemas in 2011 and went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 2012.

Now we have what could be considered a fourth part. West of Memphis is directed by Amy Berg, best known for the harrowing sex abuse doc Deliver Us From Evil, but its producers have close ties to the grisly events of 1993.  Berg, and her producers, wisely spend as little time as possible going over the events from 1993 to about 2010, perhaps aware that not many people will wonder into theatres expecting an Elvis Presley biopic. Paradise Lost is acknowledged early on preparing the viewer for never-before-seen material.

Some of this new material is explosive, delving extensively into the background of ‘You-Know-Who’, which, perhaps coincidentally, led to a couple of walk-outs in my row at the screening.  The Paradise Lost series stirred many celebrities into fighting the West Memphis 3’s cause,  in particular Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Peter Jackson who both feature heavily here.

An infuriating jaw-dropping work, one gets the feeling that this is not the end of documentaries on this subject. The four films have a total running time of seven and half hours and as Will Ferrell’s James Lipton would say ‘If you haven’t seen it, rent it, watch it, put it in a locked cabinet for a year, then watch it again, it will change.. your …life.’

Gordon Gaffney


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