Fran Walsh

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Four year ago, Neill Blomkamp directed the surprise hit District 9, a speculative sci-fi film about the integration of aliens into human culture. Based in his home country of South Africa, District 9 was embraced by critics and audiences, earning three somewhat expected technical Academy Award nomination and a completely unexpected Best Picture nod. However, before the film was released anywhere, Blomkamp recorded his commentary on the film, giving a unique insight into its production with no knowledge of its eventual success. At the time of recording, Blomkamp had been present to show the film in public once, at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Com, and he was feeling pretty good about the movie based on the audience reaction. At least this time, the Comic-Con love translated into box office success and critical acclaim.

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West_of_Memphis

Editor’s note: Nearly a year after premiering at Sundance, Amy Berg’s West of Memphis hit limited release this week. The following is a re-run of our Sundance review, originally published on January 29, 2012. At Sundance, the film notably included interviews that had been completed mere days before its festival bow. As such, the final product now appearing in theaters is slightly modified from the Sundance version, with more interviews and tighter editing. Not to worry, however, as our faithful Associate Editor Kate Erbland watched the film again, in its final form, and this review remains as applicable as it did in January. When Amy Berg‘s West of Memphis held its first Sundance screening on only the second day of the festival, audience members walked out stunned – not just because of the film’s emotional material, its often graphic crime scenes and autopsy photos and videos, or even because of how it squarely points to a singular perpetrator (one who is, of course, not part of the West Memphis 3), but because the film was undeniably fresh. So fresh, in fact, that two interviews that pop up in the film’s final third both came complete with a time stamp that indicated that they had been conducted the week before the film bowed at the fest – eight days before its opening. While the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley) were freed in August of last year, their nearly twenty-year ordeal remains almost frighteningly of the moment.

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Though it’s taking longer than most would have expected, Sundance doc West of Memphis has been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. The deal has been buzzed about since the film premiered at the festival, but SPC has finally gotten around to sewing up the deal for Amy Berg‘s film about the West Memphis Three. Berg’s film, produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, is a new entry into the cinematic world about the Three – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Accused and sentenced of the murder of three young boys back in 1993, documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy have previously chronicled the case in three Paradise Lost films, but Berg’s film features new information and interviews (some completed mere days before the film bowed in Park City), including particularly damning evidence against Terry Hobbs (a stepfather of one of the boys) and some very close time with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. Back in January, I reviewed the film at Sundance, calling it both “exceedingly well-executed” and “an essential entry into the horrifying true life tale.” I’m pleased as punch that the film will now be getting a release from an established studio that can push it out to plenty of audiences. A release date has not been announced yet, but we can likely assume that SPC will get out this timely documentary within the calendar year, especially with a number of other feature film adaptations of the story getting into production soon.

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The story of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley) has already been, quite famously, immortalized in filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy (which wrapped up this year after the Three were finally freed from prison), but Berligner and Sinofsky were not the only filmmakers captivated by the unbelievable story of the men, the murders, and the miscarriage of justice surrounding them. Peter Jackson and his wife and producing partner Fran Walsh have long been supporters of Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley, so it’s no surprise that the pair have helped produce a new documentary about the men and their case. West of Memphis is an investigative documentary by the Academy Award-nominated Amy Berg that “tells the untold story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light.” The film picks up with the official police investigation in 1993, covering the story “from the inside.” Filled with new information and new evidence, West of Memphis is a timely and welcome addition to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. West of Memphis will have its World Premiere at Sundance on Friday, January 20, with four additional screenings throughout the festival. Check out the film’s official trailer after the break, along with screening information for Sundance. See you there!

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