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“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” reviewed (photo)

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With its third entry, the documentary series “Paradise Lost” earns its title: these films now constitute an epic tragedy of American injustice. The first film, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” premiered in 1996; the second, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,” debuted in 2000. Now “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” returns to the aftermath of the same horrific crime fifteen years later. Characters from all sides of the case — investigators and prosecutors, victims and the accused — reflect on who they were then and who they are now. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky cut back and forth between the past and the present. The addition of time adds scope, insight and poignancy to everything we see.

Berlinger and Sinofsky have been chronicling the case against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — collectively known as the West Memphis Three — since they were first arrested for the murders of three young Arkansas boys back in 1993. From the very beginning, the filmmakers were skeptical of the official version of events put forth by police, who claimed that Echols was the ringleader of a local Satanic cult, and that he, Baldwin, and Misskelley committed the crime as a sort of religious sacrifice. Their skepticism was well-founded since there was no evidence that the West Memphis 3 were involved in any way, except for a confession by Misskelley procured under questionable circumstances.

You might expect the fact that the West Memphis Three were released from prison in August to blunt “Paradise Lost 3″‘s impact. It doesn’t. Berlinger and Sinofsky do an outstanding job of contextualizing this summer’s surprising turn of events, and of explaining the reasons why they happened. They also explain why the State of Arkansas would release the West Memphis Three for pleading guilty (via an obscure legal technicality called an Alford plea) after they spent decades futilely protesting their innocence (the short answer: to avoid admitting their own guilt and risking a civil suit). The scene where the Three are released after they plead guilty plays like a something out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” only this isn’t a glimpse into a dystopian fantasy of society’s dark future, it’s a glimpse of our actual society’s dark present.

The filmmakers also do a remarkable job of updating us on the lives of all their characters. The most interesting one might by John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the victims who Berlinger and Sinofsky incorrectly fingered as a possible suspect in “Paradise Lost 2” (whoops). After years of Bible-thumping and fire-and-brimstone preaching against Echols, Byers seems to have found peace and a certain amount of clarity. “What’s right and what’s wrong are two different things,” he says. “And the right thing is these boys are innocent.” Byers even has a “Free the West Memphis Three” bumper sticker on his truck. Whodathunkit?

Over their nearly twenty year journey with the West Memphis Three, Berlinger and Sinofsky have become more than storytellers; they’re now a fundamental part of the story itself. The first film led directly to the rise of a nationwide grassroots movement to free the West Memphis Three which led directly to the outside funding that led directly to new avenues in their defense. When Byers presented the directors with a blood-flecked knife as a gift, they handed the knife over to police and helped spur an investigation into his possible role in the murders. Berlinger and Sinofsky’s actions throughout the “Paradise Lost” saga may raise ethical questions about the appropriate behavior of documentarians, but those are dwarfed by the ethical questions raised about the American legal system, which is revealed in these films to be deeply damaged if not irreparably broken. So thank goodness Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to watch this all happen, and to encourage people to stand up against injustice. It’s good when a film moves people to tears. It’s better when it moves them to action.

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” screens tonight at the New York Film Festival. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…