"The Devil's Knot," a drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth and dealing with the three teenagers falsely convicted of satanic murders in the case that became known as the West Memphis 3, has won financial backing from Worldview Entertainment.
Worldview announced its backing of the project at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.
Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”) will direct, and two of the three former teenagers, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin – who were released from prison last summer after 18 years – will also co-produce the film.
The long-running tale of thwarted justice has been the subject of a series of documentaries, including three by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and another by Amy Berg that screened at Sundance this year. The third by Berlinger and Sinofsky, HBO’s “Paradise Lost: Purgatory,” was completed just as the three defendants were released from prison and aired on HBO this year. It won an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.
“Devil’s Knot,” written by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, is based on the 2002 bestselling book by investigative journalist Mara Leveritt about the savage murders of three young children. The murders outraged the community, and led to a controversial trial of three teenagers who were accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. Questions were raised about the trial almost immediately, and the case was taken up by activists who believed the teeangers were railroaded.
The project had previously been developed by Dimension which had the rights since 2006.
The trial made headlines again when the defendants were released in August of 2011 after 18 years in prison. The Arkansas Supreme Court had ordered a new trial — and rather than mount a second trial that would likely result in not-guilty verdicts and open the state to enormous damage claims, state prosecutors opted to offer an unusual and controversial "Alford plea." The plea allowed the three men to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence, and to be released immediately.
Worldview Entertainment, a New York City-based motion picture production and investment company, signed on to finance and produce, with Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein and Worldview CEO, Christopher Woodrow.
The actual defendants Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin will co-produce. The Weinstein Company is handling international sales, beginning this week in Cannes, while CAA will sell North American rights.
Principal photography is set to begin this June in Georgia.