'Paradise Lost 3' Set for Oscar-Qualifying Theatrical Release (Exclusive)

The West Memphis Three

In a move that shakes up the developing Oscar race in the documentary film category, HBO plans to give Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory a limited theatrical run before it airs on the pay-cable network.

With Friday’s release of the West Memphis Three, who finally persevered in their legal battle to overturn their convictions for the murder of three eight-year old boys, the film, which chronicles their case, now has an especially high profile. And given that Hollywood figures ranging from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to Johnny Depp have lent their support to the case, there's sure to be plenty of industry interest in seeing the final film in what is now a documentary trilogy, 15 years in the making.

STORY: How West Memphis Three's 'Paradise Lost' Doc Veered Into 'Overt Advocacy Journalism'

HBO, which produced the new movie, originally planned to air it in November, but now has scheduled it to debut on air in January. That, in turn, opens up time to give it a qualifying Academy run, since docs looking to qualify for Oscar consideration must first be publicly exhibited in theaters before they appear on TV, home video or the Internet. HBO has not yet set the specific dates for the planned theatrical engagements.

Under the Academy’s documentary film rules, a doc must play one seven-day commercial run in Los Angeles and a second seven-day run in the borough of Manhattan before Dec. 31. Paradise Lost 3 will benefit from the fact that this year the Academy has shifted the qualifying period. In previous years, the eligibility period ended on Aug. 31 (with the possibility of an extension under certain conditions to Sept. 30.)   

Paradise Lost 3 will have its world premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival and will follow up with additional festival dates in October at the New York Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival.

It documents the case of Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelly, whose lives took a dramatic turn on Friday when they were released in Jonesboro, Ark. because of new DNA evidence exonerating them of the crimes for which they had been convicted.

Berlinger and Sinofsky were on hand for the hearing at which the three were freed. While the filmmakers do not have time to put a new ending on the version of the film that plays Toronto, they hope to have it ready for its New York Film Festival showing.

Neither of the filmmakers' first two films about the case earned Oscar nominations, but they did pick up awards. 1996's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and was nominated for a DGA Award. 2000's Paradise Lost 2: Revelations was nominated for an Emmy.