I know everybody’s still buzzing about the Golden Globes, with its voluminous dresses, puppy cameo, and not-really-all-that-unleashed host. Unfortunately, our local nominees didn’t make it to the winner’s circle. Bedford’s Rooney Mara, nominated for Best Actress for her role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, lost to — of course — Meryl Streep. (Ed. note: We won’t complain too much; Streep is a Vassar grad, after all.) And Mildred Pierce, which was filmed partially in Peekskill, gave up Best Miniseries 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 its complete opposite: the Paradise Lost documentaries, by director (and Chappaque native/Northern Westchester resident) Joe Berlinger. The documentaries focus on three teenagers in West Memphis, Tennessee. (You know them as the West Memphis Three.) They were accused of murder and sentenced to death based on spotty or faulty evidence. Berlinger and his co-filmmaker, Bruce Sinofsky, documented their case, which led a groundswell of support (with a hefty defense fund). A second documentary focused on the appeals process.
This past summer, 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 can 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.
From the reviews alone, 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.