Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a dark exploration of a small southern town forever altered by a horrifying act of violence. In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were brutally murdered, their mutilated bodies left in a shallow creek along Interstate 55 in West Memphis, Arkansas. When the local police arrested three teenaged suspects and accused them of sacrificing the young boys in a Satanic ritual, the town was convinced the killers were behind bars. But the three suspects, Jason Baldwin, Jesse Misskelley and Damien Echols—whose passion for heavy metal, Aleister Crowley, and all-black clothing had made him a favorite police target—maintained that they were innocent.

Focusing on the individuals involved, their families, and the trial itself, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy (whose film Brother’s Keeper won the Audience Award at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival) document this community in the year following the murders. Through subtly nuanced depictions of the court proceedings and the ever-present news reporters, the film questions the power of the media to shape public consciousness. The character study of Echols, the alleged Satanic ringleader, is a deeply disturbing look at the way our society treats “difference” and how it attempts to articulate the elusive nature of good and evil. Despite the lack of physical evidence connecting the suspects to the crime scene, public opinion condemned them before their trial.

Pursuing issues left out of the courtroom and emotions too powerful for the sound-bite-driven news media, the film intimately examines the families of both victims and suspects as they try to come to terms with their pain and frustration. From the mother of one of the young victims cursing the murderers and “the mothers who bore them” to the girlfriend of Damien Echols praying that he will be able to return to her and their child, all are portrayed with respect, compassion, and dignity. But the filmmakers never editorialize. Instead, Paradise Lost creates a deeply resonant drama about American justice. Its unanswered questions linger on.

— Lisanne Skyler

Screening Details

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