Among the documentaries making waves at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is “West of Memphis,” the latest film to examine the wrongful conviction, imprisonment, and subsequent release of the men known as the West Memphis Three. And among those most devoted to getting the word out about the alarming miscarriage of justice, and the filmmakers who brought it to light, is a particularly recognizable celebrity: Johnny Depp, who has been working actively behind the scenes to help the story get the recognition it deserves.
Though Depp has kept a low profile about his involvement, he did sit down with his friend Damien Echols — one of the defendants who spent 18 years on death row before his conviction was overturned — and MTV News to discuss how the story of the West Memphis Three first came to his attention.
“I was looking at various documentary filmmakers to do a project, and I ran across ‘Paradise Lost,’ [co-directors] Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and of course that was my initial interest in the case,” he explained, referring to the trilogy of documentary films that began following the accused men in 1996.
The films, which began by covering the trials and ultimately suggested that evidence had been overlooked or suppressed during the investigation, made a strong impact on Depp, who ultimately became a friend and supporter of both Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis.
“Before I saw anything else or read anything else, I was instantly struck by how heinous a crime [it was], but also the wave of injustice that followed it,” Depp said. And though his interest in “West of Memphis” was a professional one initially, it was his personal feelings that compelled him to act — and that have kept him involved in and supportive of the film as it makes waves in Toronto.
“As a person,” he said, “I couldn’t stand by and allow that to happen.”