How Peter Jackson Helped Save Damien Echols From Death Row

The word out of Sundance is that the Peter Jackson-produced documentary West of Memphis has plenty more to say on the topic of the West Memphis Three. It may have even saved a life.

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After three Paradise Lost films -- Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s trilogy exploring the brutal 1993 murder of three Arkansas boys and the men convicted of the crimes -- the notion of yet another documentary on the topic might seem, pardon the expression, overkill. But word out of Park City is that West of Memphis, which premiered Friday at Sundance (the same festival that premiered the first Paradise Lost back in 1996) has plenty more to say on the topic, and may have played a hand in freeing an execution-bound Damien Echols and the other members of the West Memphis Three last August.

Directed by Amy Berg, director of 2006's shattering Catholic sex-abuse documentary Deliver Us From Evil, and produced and funded by Peter Jackson, who also funded the investigation, the two-and-a-half hour film methodically lays out explosive new evidence in the case. Most compelling: DNA recovered from a strand of hair found on one of the victims that directly links Terry Hobbs, a longtime suspect, to the crimes. The Hollywood Reporter says it's "late to the party but absolutely essential...[it] earns every minute of its screen time." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, a self-described "West Memphis Three junkie," writes that the "same remorseless and dramatic desire to crawl right up into the face of evil" that made Deliver Us From Evil so riveting is what "drives West of Memphis."

Echols appeared onstage after last night's screening, along with Berg, Jackson, and Jackson's longtime co-producer Fran Walsh, in what surely had to be the most surreal Q&A the festival has seen in years. Later, in an AP interview, Echols acknowledged how he owes his life to a man better known for bringing furry-footed Shire-dwellers to life than crusades for justice:

"The way Peter and Fran just attacked the case, it made us feel like we had hope for the very first time," Echols, 37, said in an interview alongside [wife Lauri] Davis.

Here's the trailer for West of Memphis:

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