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WEST OF MEMPHIS

Director's Statement
In 2007, I received a phone call from a friend, asking if she could give my phone number to Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh because they wanted to discuss a project with me. At the time, I didn't know much about the West Memphis Three. When I learned that the story of this case had become so important to Fran and Peter that they wanted to produce a documentary about the crime and subsequent legal battle, I wondered what could have moved this pair of successful filmmakers who lived eight thousand miles away from Arkansas to be so invested in seeing the West Memphis Three walk free from prison. But after our first conversation -- hearing the unwavering commitment in their voices as they spoke about the case; about the 18 years of injustice, an investigation rife with corruption, and the destruction of multiple lives -- I understood that this was a story that not only exposed a frightening failure of justice within our legal system, but exposed a judicial culture where innocence did not matter.

Soon after that conversation, I met Lorri Davis, the wife of Damien Echols. Lorri and Damien had been together for 15 years, married for twelve of them, yet had never shared a life together that did not involve prison bars, and shackles; a life of having to say goodbye every time they met. We spoke for hours; I heard about the promising developments and outrageous disappointments that they had lived through, day after day, and year after year. After I met Lorri and Damien in person, and experienced first-hand their strength of character, poise, and love for each other I knew I wanted to make this film.

Much of my career has been devoted to the plight of all victims of the judicial system. The families of murder victims and the wrongly incarcerated both suffer from the same corruption that is endemic to the very institutions they look to for guidance and protection. Rarely had I come across a failure of justice with such profound consequences - three young men falsely convicted of crimes for which they were still imprisoned; six families lives forever destroyed while the real killer of three eight year old boys remained free. A combination of poverty, corruption, political ambition and religious bigotry had collided in this case to create a horrific illustration of how wrong things can go for everyone when we, as a society, fail to do all in our power to discover the truth.

I spent over two years chasing down every lead, every person willing to talk to us, pulling at the tangled threads of the truth to see where it might lead. This film is the end result of that journey. The day after I left Memphis, a friend and prominent figure in the US justice system told me about a phrase that's been coined to describe how the legal community operates in corrupted judicial systems: "Just Us"... The term encapsulates the idea that rather than an equable court of justice, there are only the authorities who control that system. To me, the phrase eloquently summarizes the long series of omissions and outright manipulations that characterized this case for so many years. But the phrase can also be flipped around. Damien, Jason and Jessie took the power from the state to successfully broadcast the facts of their innocence. They became the "us." It has been a source of great pride and gratitude to me to be able to share in the process of three, young, innocent men, supported by thousands of well-wishers from all over the world, taking the judicial system back. West of Memphis shows how "Just Us" can transform into All of Us; all those who refuse to surrender to injustice, regardless of what higher authorities might like us to accept.

- Amy Berg, January 2012

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