Many filmmakers dream of turning one movie into a sequel-spawning franchise. But the news that there will be not only a third but likely a fourth "Paradise Lost" documentary is bittersweet to all involved.
"We thought the story was going to come to an end a lot longer ago," co-director Joe Berlinger told MTV News by phone.
Berlinger, together with Bruce Sinofsky, co-directed "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996) and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000), which documented the trial and controversial convictions of three teenagers for the grisly murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.
"Originally, we had envisioned 'Paradise Lost 3' not being over until the story comes to its conclusion, which hopefully meant exoneration, but obviously could mean execution, which would be tragic," he continued. "We don't want to make 'Paradise Lost 4,' but it seems like that's in the cards now, because we feel like 'Paradise Lost 3' needs to get out and people need to be reminded that this case is still [ongoing]."
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley — commonly referred to as the West Memphis Three — have been in prison for over 16 years, with Echols due to die by lethal injection. Many activists and several celebrities — including Johnny Depp, Metallica and Eddie Vedder — believe the trio were wrongly convicted based more on their interest in heavy metal and Stephen King books than the actual facts surrounding the case.
Depp has been making headlines for his pre-taped CBS "48 Hours Mysteries" interview, which will air Sunday during an episode that will discuss new DNA evidence and alleged juror misconduct that could theoretically overturn the convictions. Berlinger told MTV News that Depp actually first reached out to him about the West Memphis Three in 1996, just six months after the first "Paradise Lost" documentary premiered at Sundance.
"He e-mailed me, and we had several lengthy phone conversations. He's been a supporter and he's spoken with Damien. I've gotten an e-mail from Johnny probably once or twice a year since '96 wanting updates on the case. He was one of the first people to say, 'These guys aren't still in prison, are they?' He was blown away by the movie when it first came out, and he couldn't believe that nothing had changed."
Metallica was so moved by the story that they allowed their music to be used in the first film, back in the days before "Mission Impossible 2" and "Old School," when they regularly blocked Hollywood access to their catalog. The relationship they developed with the filmmakers resulted in the acclaimed "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" film. "Metallica is part and parcel to this story," Berlinger said. "The band is very proud of their association with the 'Paradise Lost' movie, and I would certainly expect that to continue."
Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks will likely make an appearance in the third documentary. "We filmed Natalie organically, because she came down and gave a speech on the steps of the Arkansas Supreme Court. She made reference [to another suspect], which brought about a civil suit, which has led to new evidence.
"It's gotten to the point of absurdity, where all this new evidence has come out. The same judge who presided over the original case is presiding over the appeals. Just the fact that the same judge — even though he's retired and running for the state Senate, he's requested to stay active on this one case — that cries out for examination. I can't tell you how many people come up to me, say they loved the film[s], and are shocked and appalled to hear the guys are still rotting in prison."
Berlinger's most recent movie, "Crude" (2009), dealt with a gigantic environmental lawsuit against Texaco. He's worked on several "Iconoclast" episodes for Sundance and is putting together a documentary on horror author Clive Barker called "Raising Hell: The Visions of Clive Barker." Many people he encounters in his work, from Sting to producer Norman Lear, have become interested in the West Memphis Three case.
Berlinger and Sinofsky announced plans for "Paradise Lost 3" in 2004 and figured they'd have it in theaters within three years. "I guess there'll be a 'Paradise Lost 4,' given the glacial pace," he said.
"We shot Damien in December, on his 35th birthday. It was very emotional for everybody," he said. "The last time we interviewed him for a film was 10 years ago. As he said to us in the interview, if he spends another birthday in prison, he will have spent half of his life in prison for a crime he didn't commit."
Berlinger and Sinofsky aim to finish "Paradise Lost 3" by the end of 2010.
Check out everything we've got on "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations."
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