Following yesterday’s showing of “Voices for Justice,” a short film by Mike Poe that premiered at the West Memphis Three benefit last August, our own Lindsey Millar hosted a panel discussion on “The Media and the West Memphis Three” at the Argenta Community Theater. The discussion featured Joe Berlinger (director of the “Paradise Lost” films), Mara Leveritt (author of the book “Devil’s Knot”), Capi Peck (founding member of the WM3 advocacy group Arkansas Take Action) and Lorri Davis (wife of Damien Echols). Panelists touched on a number of issues including early news coverage of the case (would you believe most media outlets were a little biased against the WM3?), the reaction to the “Paradise Lost” documentaries here in Arkansas and the movement that has built up around the case over the years.
If you’ve followed the case closely, then there wasn’t a whole lot that you haven’t heard before. However, there were a number of insightful comments and even some new information that we’d never run across. We’ve attempted to include most of that in the video above. For example, Berlinger said that when he and co-director Bruce Sinofsky started the project, their original intention was to make a film about disturbed teenagers who committed a terrible crime. Berlinger said until he got to know the kids involved and learned more about the evidence (or lack thereof) he, like everyone else, thought they were absolutely guilty. Finally, he called HBO and told the higher-ups, “These guys are innocent.”
Berlinger also talked about the practice, decided upon during the filming of the first documentary, of paying the families they were interviewing. He says they realized they were making money off of families who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from and made the decision to give the families of the victims and the defendants $7,500 each. He said he felt it was the right decision to make at the time, but he would not do it again. Also, stay tuned to the end of the video to hear how he and Sinofsky were able to get cameras into the courtroom. It’s something Berlinger said he has never talked about before in public.