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The other day, as I was working at the Yarrow Hotel, I ran into Chris Pizzello. Chris is an AP photographer, and we feature his work here on HitFix on a regular basis. I've been seeing his name go by for years now when I'm editing stories, but this was the first time I ended up actually running into any of the AP guys, and it was great to put face to name finally.
He was busy uploading some photos to the AP site, and as we started talking about the festival, he showed me a photo which seemed to have him almost giddy.
I can see why.
If you've been following the story of the West Memphis Three since the first "Paradise Lost" was released in 1996, then the photo that Pizzello took would have been unthinkable for most of the past fifteen years. Impossible. Absolutely absurd to even mention.
The opportunity for the photo took place at the red carpet for the premiere of "West Of Memphis," which is the new documentary I reviewed the other day. As I mentioned, the film traces the way the story has evolved over the time from the early '90s to right now, and it shows how suspicion has landed on many different people over the years even after Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelly were sent to prison.
One of the people who was most rabid about seeing those three put to death in the first film was Mark Byers, one of the fathers of the dead kids. He was a terrifying figure in the film, irrational and furious and emotionally wounded, and watching him blow the head off of an effigy of Echols, it would be impossible to ever imagine a time when Byers would be able to be in the same room with him.
The same is true for Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the other boys who died. Her pain and grief is so raw, and her fury so focused on the accused, that it would be crazy to ever picture her finding even a degree of forgiveness for them.
All of this, the entire experience of watching the Berlinger/Sinofsky films and seeing the story play out in headlines and then seeing "West Of Memphis," was running through my mind when Pizzello showed me the photo that makes me believe that, given real information and enough time, anyone can come around to reason and forgiveness.
Check this out:
Say what you will about Damien Echols, but if I knew that people had been calling for my execution for over a decade, I would have a hard time ever being in a room with them. And while Mark Byers may have been portrayed as a lunatic at times in the Berlinger/Sinofsky films, it takes a good person to be able to admit they were wrong and to genuinely make some sort of amends.
These people standing together, all of them here in an effort to tell this story and keep the investigation alive and someday still find justice for the dead boys who are, of course, the real victims in this entire thing… well, it strikes me as more than just a great film festival moment. It's a great moment, and inspirational.
I may be talking to "West Of Memphis" director Amy Berg later this week, or even sometime after the festival, but I have a feeling we're not done with this story yet.