I know everybody’s still buzzing about the Golden Globes, with its voluminous dresses, puppy cameo, and not-really-all-that-unleashed host. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can say about it here. Our area is not represented in the winner’s circle. Bedford native Rooney Mara, nominated for Best Actress for her role in TheGirl with the Dragon Tattoo, lost to—of course—Meryl Streep. Even our location lost out: Mildred Pierce, which was filmed partially in Peekskill, lost its Best Mini-Series award to the buttoned-up Brits in Downton Abbey. Maybe if someone from our area had made a delightful silent film with big smiles, tap-dancing, and an adorable dog, we would’ve fared a little better. Oh well—it’s onto the Oscars!
So, instead of covering the Golden Globes, I’m going to focus on what is probably the complete opposite. A while ago, I wrote about Chappaqua native and current Northern director Joe Berlinger and his Paradise Lost documentaries. The documentaries focus on three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas (often called the “West Memphis Three”). They were accused of murder and sentenced—one to death, the other two to life imprisonment—based on spotty or faulty evidence. Berlinger and his co-filmmaker, Bruce Sinofsky, made a documentary about their case, and it led a groundswell of support (with a hefty defense fund). A second documentary focused on the appeals process.
Over the summer, there was a huge development in the case: The West Memphis Three were all released from prison. They weren’t pardoned, per se. Instead, their charges were vacated, and they entered “Alford guilty pleas,” which means that they could maintain their innocence but still plead guilty if they thought it was in their best interest.
“Why does it take three well-funded HBO documentaries over 18 years and millions of dollars from a vast array of celebrities and regular people agitating to give these guys the kind of defense that they deserved back in ’93? There’s something wrong with the justice system,” Berlinger was quoted saying in The Huffington Post.
Of course, Berlinger and Sinofsky were there through the whole process, with cameras rolling. The result became Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which aired on HBO last week. Here’s what critics have to say:
“This is one of the most fascinating of all true crime stories.” —Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
“Destined to rank as one of the major achievements in American documentary.” —John Anderson, Variety
“HBO Documentaries has made a vital contribution down through the years to the continuing development and success of the documentary film. This almost pales in comparison to its contribution to the recent freeing of three undoubtedly innocent men.” —Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
“In an inescapable way, the third film ends up being about itself, about the series’ function in and around the campaign to free the WM3, alongside the marches and websites and Henry Rollins benefit concerts.” —Michael Atkinson, the Village Voice
From the reviews, you can see Paradise Lost 3 is a fascinating story, an example of how the justice system still has flaws in this country, and an interesting example of a documentary. It’s a big achievement, and made by one of our Westchester neighbors. Here, you can see a five-minute interview with Berlinger and Sinofsky about the movie: