Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

on June 10, 1996 by S.L
   Screened at Sundance Film Festival in Documentary Competition.
   The full title is a mouthful, and so is the film. Overly long at two and a half hours, "Paradise" is still being cut down. But it won't be easy to lose the 20 minutes filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky claim they want to remove, since their film is so packed with information, encapsulating a year in the most notorious murder case in Arkansas history.
   After the huge success of their 1992 documentary "Brother's Keeper," it's interesting to see Berlinger and Sinofsky tackle another murder mystery for their sophomore effort. The lurid storyline: three 8 year old boys are brutally, possibly ritually murdered in rural Arkansas. The town and community cry for justice, but there is little physical evidence. One month later, police pick up 17 year old Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Jr. for questioning. He confesses to the killing and implicates two other teenagers: Damien Wayne Echols, 18, and Jason Baldwin, 16.
   The filmmakers, with almost unprecedented access, film in the courtroom, behind the closed doors of the defense team meetings, in jail with the defendents and are welcomed into the homes of both the angry victims' families and the equally emotional defendants' families.
   Between the lawyers, the murdered kids, the accused kids and everyone's parents and step-parents and girlfriends, there's such a calvalcade of characters that it's difficult to keep track of who's who--and even more difficult to know what's what, and what's been cut out. Though the filmmakers manage some interesting commentary about media manipulation, there is so much obvious manipulation going on in the film itself that the results are disturbingly schizoid. Clearly, there's a strong film here, struggling to get out. The events chronicled are rivetting as human drama, and topical thanks to the public's current taste for conflict-filled murder trials, and the resulting rabid media response that attends them. As in the O.J. Simpson case, the audience of "Paradiase Lost" gets to be both judge and jury, and gets to be outraged by the results of so-called justice in a system seemingly gone awry.    Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Produced by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. A Hand to Mouth Production. Documentary. Running time 150 minutes.
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