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'Paradise Lost' director Joe Berlinger sought justice for three young men convicted of child murder on Astini News

Joe Berlinger has always known that he wanted to tell stories, especially the one about three young men convicted of child murder.


Joe Berlinger has always known that he wanted to tell stories, especially the one about three young men convicted of child murder.

Born and raised in Westchester and a lifelong New Yorker, documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (r.) traveled to West Memphis, Ark., 18 years ago to document one story, and came back with another. The result was 1996's "Paradise Lost; The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," a follow-up, 2000's "Paradise Lost 2; Revelations," and now "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," which will debut at the New York Film Festival Oct. 10 before screening on HBO in January.

The films involve the case of three young men — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — convicted in 1994 of the murders of three children a year earlier. Echols was sentenced to death; the other two received life sentences. But from the beginning, there were questions about the case, as prosecutors partly depicted it all as heavy metal music's demonic influence.

Last month, after a decade and a half of appeals and work from legal rights advocates, supporters and celebrities to re-examine evidence, the "West Memphis Three" were released following a deal with prosecutors. Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin plan to attend the showing at the NYFF.

"Paradise Lost" wasn't intended to be about innocent men in a legal nightmare, right?

"No. The film came out in 1996, just as the Internet was becoming a thing, which allowed there to be an Internet-based support group, which is what brought in people like Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, Eddie Vedder. And while the celebrities who've rallied to the cause to free these guys get attention, it's really the acts of tens of thousands of people who found each other that helped propel it.

"It's amazing to me the people from all walks of life who joined this movement and went down to the hearings or donated money — the bankers or the street vendors. And when I ask them why they're supporting them, they all say something like, 'I listened to heavy metal music, or my tastes were a little different, and I could be those guys in that situation, and we can't let this happen.'

"When Metallica saw a rough cut, they agreed to have their music used for the first time in a movie, because they saw that heavy metal music was on trial as much as anything. People who dance to a slightly different tune and who've found an artistic outlet — like Eddie Vedder, or Johnny Depp, who's from rural Kentucky, or Natalie Maines — feel like they could have been these people, and it touched a nerve."

The new movie takes the story up to their release of last month. What have you learned from documenting their case?

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