TIFF 2011: Joe Berlinger talks about the West Memphis Three, ‘Paradise Lost 3’ and the story that has spanned his entire career

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Seminal documentarian Joe Berlinger has made a career out of defining and disseminating stories that are as engaging and poignant as they are obsure. Every bit as relevant to the modern resurgence of popular narrative documentries as Errol Morris or Werner Herzog, Berlinger has shown his audiences tales of small-town fratricide, corporate corruption in the Ecuadoran rainforest and the previously unseen petty relationships of one of the world’s largest bands. However, he is best known for his expose of a grevious miscarriage of justice that began 18 years ago in West Memphis, Arkansas. His 1996 film Paradise Lost, which chronicled the arrest and trail of three teenagers for the horrific murder of three young boys, murders they clearly did not commit, has become a documentary classic. Following the release last week of the three men, known for years as the West Memphis Three, Paradise Lost can now also lay claim to being one of the most effective social justice advocacy pieces ever made.

Michael Waldman sat down with Joe Berlinger to discuss the case, the upcoming Paradise Lost 3 and the legacy of this story and the films that brought it to the world. Paradise Lost 3 will be making its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, Sunday, September 11.

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Listen to our review of Paradise Lost from episode 269 of the Sound On Sight podcast

  1. Nina Smith says

    The horror of this crimes does remind me of a couple murders during the 90’s. I do have one question, if the three boys were killed out in the open, then how could no one of heard the attack? This wasn’t so dark that no one or nothing ( pet ) wasn’t aware of something brutal or even slightly suspicious.

  2. Actually, that’s not true. Every single fact I presented either came from a court case document, police report or mainstream news article. None of them were disproven. For some of them, the defense produced alternative arguments.

    One thing movie analysts might want to look at is how some movies show only one side of the story, some would consider this propaganda or using media to manipulate opinion. This happens a lot in movies about child abuse and cult murders. The effect this produces on society is chilling. When a case that has two sides of the story is presented only from the side of the defense, then justice is not served and the victims of these crimes are often left unprotected and unbelieved.

  3. Mike Waldman says

    West Memphis Three Case Evidence:

    Your comments are also “very interesting”. Nearly every single issue you raise has either been thoroughly disproved or is simply a fabrication.

    Anyway, this isn’t a West Memphis Three forum, it’s a film site. And I’m a documentary reviewer. If you’d like to discus the filmic qualities of Paradise Lost, or Joe Berlinger’s influence on the evolution of first-person narrative documentaries, I’m in.

  4. Statement of: Joe Houston Bartoush, Jr.
    Route 2 Box 767 Lakeshore

    On 10-27-92 I was at Lakeshore Trailer Park with Damien Echols when he killed a Black Great Dane. The dog was already sick and he hit the dog in the back of the head. He pulled the intestines out of the dog and started stomping the dog until blood came out of his mouth. He was going to come back later with battery acid so that he could burn the hair and skin off of the dog’s head. He had two cat skulls, a dog skull and a rat skull that I already knew about. He kept these skulls in his bedroom at Jack Echols house in Lakeshore. He was trying to make the eyeballs of the dog he killed pop out when he was stomping. Damien had a camoflouge survival knife to cut the guts out of the dog with. This statement was written by Det. Ridge at my request.

    This statement was completed at 2:07 PM on the 14 day of June 1993.

    Witness: Det. B. Ridge
    X Joe Bartoush(Signature of person giving voluntary statement)

    Witness: Hubert B. Bartoush

  5. This case was a very interesting one. The three had no alibis. Misskelley confessed three separate times, once with his lawyer present. Baldwin told someone else he committed the crimes. Echols was seen in muddy clothes near the crime scene. He bragged about the murder to two other teenagers, stating he killed the three boys. This was presented as evidence at the trial.

    Echols also had a history of psychiatric treatment. His reported actions included brutally killing a dog, starting fires at his school, threatening to kill his teachers and parents and stating he liked to drink blood.
    (see callahan 8k for information)

    Fibers on the murdered victims’ clothing were found to microscopically similar to things in the Baldwin and Echols homes. The serrated wound patterns on the three victims that were consistent with, and could have been caused by, a knife found in a lake behind appellant Baldwin’s parents’ residence.

    Echols’ stated under cross-examination that he was interested in the occult. A funeral register found in his room with hand-drawn pentagrams and upside-down crosses. Echols’ journal contained morbid images and references to dead children.

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