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Toronto Film Festival: Johnny Depp just a friend sharing his support, Tater Tots for 'West of Memphis'

Johnny Depp has stayed pretty low key since his split with longtime partner Vanessa Paradis, but he came to the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, wearing his usual scarves and bracelets and a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses, to talk about something close to his heart: the documentary West of Memphis.

The doc — about three teen boys who were arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for allegedly killing three 8-year-olds in Arkansas and who served 18 years in prison before getting released — also premiered at the fest Saturday. Depp is good friends with one of the now men, Damien Echols, who joined Depp, the film’s director, Amy Berg, and Echols’ wife, Lorri Davis, at a press conference (director and big supporter Peter Jackson joined via Skype).


'West of Memphis' picked up by Sony Pictures Classics


West of Memphis, director Amy Berg’s chronicle of the effort to exonerate the West Memphis Three, was acquired today by Sony Pictures Classics in a deal for the global distribution rights.

Produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the film focuses a great deal on Lorri Davis, the wife of Damien Echols, who was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of three young boys in Arkansas, and was released last year after 19 years in jail, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. (who were serving life sentences for the crime). “We are excited and quite frankly overwhelmed at the chance to tell our own story,” Davis and Echols, who are also producers of West of Memphis, said in a statement about the acquisition. “Working with Fran, Peter and Amy has been the most powerful and fulfilling of experiences for us. We see this film as a source of inspiration, and it carries our heart and soul with it.”

The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews, including EW’s Owen Gleiberman, who said the film “casts a hypnotic dark spell.”

No release date has been set yet.

Read more:
Peter Jackson, Damien Echols, and Amy Berg on ‘West of Memphis’ — VIDEO
Sundance review: Even if you’ve seen all three ‘Paradise Lost’ films, ‘West of Memphis’ casts its own dark spell
Peter Jackson talks about his innocence project: ‘West of Memphis’

Sundance: EW's Owen Gleiberman assesses the festival's first half -- VIDEO

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival is entering its sleepy second half, when the crush of celebrities and traffic and gifting suites and party buses have all evaporated into the crisp Utah air, and nothing is left but the movies themselves. If the final films playing at the festival are as good as EW’s Owen Gleiberman found the first half’s films to be, then this year’s Sundance will definitely be remembered as one of the best in recent memory. Check out our far-ranging conversation about the Sundance highlights (and a few lowlights) below, including Richard Gere in Arbitrage, the Kennedy-family doc Ethel, and Josh Radnor’s Liberal ArtsREAD FULL STORY

Sundance: Peter Jackson, Damien Echols on 'West of Memphis,' and visiting 'The Hobbit' set -- VIDEO

One of the most high-profile debuts at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival has to be director Amy Berg and producer Peter Jackson’s documentary West of Memphis. Largely a chronicle of the effort, bankrolled by Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, to exonerate the West Memphis Three — a.k.a. Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols — the doc is already winning critical praise and media attention for the new witnesses Berg only just interviewed on camera last week.

I talked with Jackson and Berg about that dramatic development when they stopped by EW’s Sundance studio with two of the film’s central subjects (and producers): Damien Echols and Lorri Davis. Echols was released from death row just last year after 18 years in prison, in large part thanks to the steadfast dedication of Davis, who met and married Echols after he was in prison. It was easy to see in our interview that the glamour of Sundance has been a bit of a shock for them, but I loved hearing about their two-month trip to New Zealand to visit Jackson and Walsh on the set of The Hobbit. Check out our interview below:  READ FULL STORY

Sundance: Even if you've seen all three 'Paradise Lost' films, 'West of Memphis' casts its own dark spell

I went into West of Memphis, the new documentary, financed by Peter Jackson, about the West Memphis Three case — the gruesome 1993 child murders in Arkansas; Damien Echols, along with comrades Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, tried and convicted as a weirdo-outsider-satanist; the corruption and injustice; the years of protest; the trio’s release from prison last August — with a blend of curiosity and trepidation. I was intensely interested to see if the movie could show us something new, and maybe even revelatory, about the case. But I admit that I was more than a little skeptical about whether that could happen. READ FULL STORY

Peter Jackson talks about his innocence project: 'West of Memphis'

In 1993, three 8-year-old boys were murdered in West Memphis, Ark. It was a horrifying, sensational crime. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — who’d become known as the West Memphis Three — were painted by prosecutors as devil-worshipping metalheads and convicted. Echols, then 18, was sentenced to death, while Baldwin, 16, and Misskelley, 17, got life sentences. The trial struck many as a sham, and an HBO documentary about the case, 1996’s Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, outraged and inspired celebrity supporters such as Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter ­Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh. (Two more Paradise Lost films have since been made; the third just aired on HBO.) In 2004, Jackson and Walsh quietly began financing investigations to get the men released. Then, last August, after 18 years in prison, Echols, ­Baldwin, and Misskelley were finally freed — but not exonerated. In exchange for their freedom, they agreed to an “Alford plea.” The upshot is that they can tell the world that they’re innocent, but the state can tell the world that they’re guilty — and never get sued for wrongful imprisonment.

Now Jackson and Walsh have ­produced West of Memphis, a new ­documentary directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) that will premiere at Sundance on Jan. 20. (The film does not yet have a distributor.) EW spoke with Jackson, Walsh, Berg, and Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Damien, what did you think of West of Memphis?
Damien Echols: I loved it, which kind of amazed me. After you deal with anything long enough, it sort of — I don’t want to say it loses the edge — but you just reach a point where you have to let it go or it’s just going to eat you alive inside. READ FULL STORY

'West of Memphis' trailer: Peter Jackson's doc about the West Memphis Three -- EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK

A freight train’s whistle sounds. Then a voice. “Nothing ever happens in West Memphis, Arkansas.” If only that were true.

For the past seven years, director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh have quietly financed investigations to help free Jason Baldwin, Jesse Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols — a.k.a. the West Memphis Three — who were convicted in 1994 of murdering three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. On Jan. 20, West of Memphis, the documentary Jackson and Walsh produced about their findings, will premiere at Sundance. Until then, Jackson has provided EW with an exclusive first look at the film’s trailer.

Back in August, Baldwin, Misskelley, and Echols were released after 18 years in prison, marking the culmination of a long campaign that began with the 1996 HBO doc Paradise Lost: The Child Killings at Robin Hood Hills. Now, Jackson and Walsh’s film (which was directed by Amy Berg and whose poster was exclusively revealed here yesterday) shows why they never should have been arrested in the first place. Says Echols, who is also a producer on the film, “When Peter and Fran came onto this case, that was the first time that I had the feeling of, ‘Okay, something is finally being done. Finally someone is looking out for me. Someone is trying to move this mountain.'” READ FULL STORY

'West of Memphis' poster: Peter Jackson's doc about the West Memphis Three -- EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK


Since 2004, Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh have quietly bankrolled DNA and forensic investigations to help free Jason Baldwin, Jesse Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols — a.k.a. the West Memphis Three — who were convicted in 1994 of murdering three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, they will premiere West of Memphis — directed by Amy Berg and produced by Jackson and Walsh, the film chronicles the findings of their seven-year investigation into the case of the West Memphis Three. And Jackson has provided EW with an exclusive first look at the film’s poster. (You can check out a full-size version of the poster below.) READ FULL STORY

Peter Jackson announces completion of West Memphis Three documentary

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have announced their production company, WingNut Films, have wrapped a new documentary about the notorious wrongful conviction case of the West Memphis Three.

West of Memphis tells the story of Damien Echolls, Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr., three Arkansans who were arrested for a triple homicide in 1993 and spent over 18 years in prison before finally being released. Echolls and wife Lorri Davis are also serving as producers; documentarian Amy Berg, whose Deliver Us from Evil was nominated for an Oscar, is directing the film.

“This film represents the trial these men didn’t have,” says Berg in the announcement. READ FULL STORY

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