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Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Peter Jackson-Produced 'West of Memphis'

The film from director Amy Berg about the West Memphis Three debuted at January's Sundance Film Festival in the documentary premieres section.

West of Memphis Poster - P 2012
Jock and The Silent Giants

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to Amy Berg’s documentary West of Memphis, the company announced Wednesday.

The film about the West Memphis Three debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in the documentary premieres section on Jan. 20.

The film chronicles the new investigation surrounding the West Memphis Three that eventually broke the case open and led to the freedom of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. The trio was convicted in 1994 of the 1993 murders of three boys in the town of West Memphis, Ark.

The controversial Arkansas legal case garnered widespread media attention over the years, and spawned three acclaimed HBO documentaries.

West of Memphis was produced by the husband-and-wife team of Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, and Echols and wife Lorri Davis.

"I hope the film will serve as a platform for a broader discussion about the failures of our criminal justice system nationwide," Berg said in a statement. "I'm very excited for this powerful story to be making its way to theaters and know that having Sony Pictures Classics as our partner is the surest way to catapult our film to the widest possible audience."

The premiere of West of Memphis brought a full Sundance audience to the MARC Theatre in Park City. Jackson and Walsh were on hand to introduce it, and several of the people involved in the case and the 1993 murders were there, as well. Victims’ parents John Mark Byers and Pam Hobbs were in the theater, as were Echols and wife Davis. Several of Echols’ lawyers were in attendance as well as a pair of juvenile legal defense workers who helped his case. 

A tearful Jackson spoke after the premiere and discussed flaws in the justice system exposed by the movie, saying: “It shows how fragile it is” and “how the justice system can derail.”

Sony Pictures Classics negotiated the deal with Jackson and Walsh's manager, Ken Kamins, who also served as the film's executive producer.  

West of Memphis is the third 2012 Sundance film to be acquired by Sony Pictures Classics; the company also bought comedic drama Celeste and Jesse Forever and documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com; Jay.Fernandez@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller; @Writer730