Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Paradise Lost Films

In May of 1993, the mutilated bodies of three young children were found in the woods near Robin Hood Hills of West Memphis, Arkansas and soon thereafter three teen aged boys were charged with the murder. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky began documenting the case, offering time to both the victim's family as well as the accused and, as the case began to take the national spotlight, it becomes clear that this is no straightforward prosecution. As questionable police interrogation techniques surface, circumstantial evidence is used by the prosecution, and an overzealous stepfather to one of the victims begins hoarding the spotlight, a great doubt is a cast over the accused's guilt. (Spoilers) Beginning with "The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" in 1996, returning six later in visit the West Memphis 3 in prison and get updates from the participants in "Revelations", and finally with their release in the latest installment entitled "Purgatory", Berlinger and Sinofsky use the medium of film to present a gross miscarriage of justice and to call into question the justice system and how our prejudices affect our judgement. The "Paradise Lost" films are a surreal and powerful look at a harrowing case, which also can come off as manipulative and self-promoting. At times, even the filmmakers areguilty of bearing the same kind of prejudice which led to the conviction of its subjects. Still, Berlinger and Sinofsky have a great eye for this kind of filmmaking and it is the small details, such as one of the defendants combing his hair before appearing on the stand or people laughing before giving serious interviews to news cameras, that give these films such power. Beginning with the grisly murders, it would have been impossible to see where this case led and in spite of some questionable practices of their own, Berlinger and Sinofsky have crafted a heartbreaking look at a tragic event rocking a small town, that speaks volumes about our justice system and our prejudices.