HBO airing West Memphis Three docs 

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PARADISE LOST (1996): 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29
PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS (2000): 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug 30

Way back in 1996, before almost anybody else (other than Arkansas Times, of course. Toot-toot!) gave a tinker's damn about the three trailer-park nobodies who would become known as the West Memphis Three, HBO aired a haunting documentary called "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," about the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers, and the eventual trials that convicted Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin for not much more than being kids who dressed in black and liked weird music. Directors Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, who had made a name for themselves with the excellent doc "Brother's Keeper," came to Arkansas to film the trials of Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin because they wanted to make a film about teen depravity in the heartland. Within a few days, however, they realized that the three boys were basically being railroaded by a community gripped with fear. The documentaries on the case have rallied hundreds of thousands if not millions to the WM3 cause, along with all-important celebrities willing to shout innocence from the rooftops (including Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, whose publicist — in one of those twists you just can't make up — sent an e-mail to the defense team saying Vedder had seen "Paradise Lost" and wanted to help exactly 13 years to the day before the WM3 were released). Now, in honor of the release of the West Memphis Three, HBO will be showing both "Paradise Lost" documentaries next week. In addition, Sinofsky and Berlinger have a third installment of the "Paradise Lost" series in the works (it was apparently almost finished when a call to get their asses to Jonesboro last week threw a welcome monkey wrench in the co-directors' plans), titled "Paradise Lost: Purgatory," which is scheduled to debut on HBO in January. In light of recent events, might we suggest another title? "Paradise Lost: Resurrection" has a nice ring to it.


While we're on the subject of Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, we'd be remiss if we didn't point fans of "Paradise Lost" and the documentary form in general to this Netflix Instant gem: their first documentary, "Brother's Keeper," which won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance the year it was released. Financed with credit cards and shot in the "direct cinema" style (which seeks to simply portray events as they happen, without overlying comment from the filmmakers), later employed in "Paradise Lost," the gritty doc is the story of the Ward Brothers - William, Delbert, Lyman, and Roscoe Ward - four elderly, near-illiterate farmers who lived together in a shack outside of Munnsville, N.Y. near Syracuse. In 1990, William Ward, who had been suffering from a variety of long-term and painful illnesses, died. Eventually, his brother Delbert confessed to killing William to end his suffering - a confession which was apparently coerced by police - and was put on trial for his murder. He was acquitted at trial. Like the original "Paradise Lost," "Brother's Keeper" contains a good bit of tense courtroom drama. At the same time, however, it's also a moving film about disappearing rural communities, and how simple folk whose families have lived in small New England towns for generations are being pushed out in favor of development, suburban sprawl and progress. Check it out. It's a hell of a flick.


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