Inside a Town's Anguish Documentary of the Robin Hood Hills Murders Takes Filmmakers on a Journey They Couldn't Have Foreseen

By Toroian, Diane | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 13, 1997 | Go to article overview

Inside a Town's Anguish Documentary of the Robin Hood Hills Murders Takes Filmmakers on a Journey They Couldn't Have Foreseen


Toroian, Diane, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Few documentary makers will ever know the commercial and critical success filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are enjoying. Their 1992 movie, "Brother's Keeper," was one of the top-grossing documentaries ever made, and their follow-up, "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills," has wowed HBO audiences and moviegoers alike.

But on this day, the duo can't be bothered with accolades and good reviews. They are waiting to hear whether McDonald's has chosen them to shoot a burger commercial.

"Sadly, we have to sell our souls so we have the money to do what we want," said Berlinger. "Paradise Lost" is a gripping story about the 1993 murder and mutilation of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., and their alleged killers, three teens with a passion for Metallica and black clothes. Berlinger and Sinofsky read about the grotesque case in the New York Times the day after the teens -- Jessie Misskelley, Charles Jason Baldwin and Damien Wayne Echols -- were arrested for killing the boys as part of a perverted Satanic ritual. When asked how strong his case was on a scale from one to 10, one prosecutor cavalierly boasted, "Eleven." "When we went down there, we wanted to find out how they could be so disaffected that they could do this," said Sinofsky. "But when we got down there, what we were seeing on the news was not what we were seeing ourselves." What they saw, exactly, were cops under pressure to solve the grisliest crime in the state's recent history, devastated, angry parents and neigh bors who would believe anything if it would put this tragedy behind them. They also saw that the case on Echols, the supposed mastermind, was based on his interests (black clothes, heavy-metal music and white witchcraft), not on the evidence (scant, at best). What unfolds is two-and-a-half hours of mesmerizing play-by-play crime drama that explores the nature of good and evil and the American justice system. Berlinger and Sinofsky spent nine months in West Memphis and taped 150 hours of footage, including the families and friends of both the victims and the accused, the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the three alleged killers. …

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