Paradise Lost told the story of the West Memphis Three
Update Aug. 24, 2011: The New York Film Festival has just announced the premiere of the complete version of Paradise Lost 3, with the new ending. That means the additional footage won’t be ready in time for Toronto. It’s not clear how extensive the film’s theatrical release will be, but everyone will have a chance to see it on HBO in 2012.

It’s almost certainly the year’s biggest story in documentaries — and one that pretty much guarantees a Best Oscar win next year for Paradise Lost directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Today, just as the filmmakers scramble to get Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory ready for festival screenings beginning next month in Toronto and New York, a surprise hearing in West Memphis, Arkansas, is seeing the release of the “West Memphis Three.”

The three men were convicted as teenagers, in 1993, of the so-called “Satanic” murders of three Cub Scouts. It’s a terrible story, told in gripping and harrowing detail in the directors’ Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. The first film shed considerable doubt on the convictions, which it argued, convincingly, were based largely on circumstantial evidence — including the conservative community’s scapegoating of the suspects. To be fair, there was also a confession by one of the three, but the film makes a strong case that it was coerced. A follow-up, Revelations: Paradise Lost 2, gathered more details on the alleged miscarriage of justice and seemed to point toward another possible suspect in the case. Now, the just-completed Purgatory, already set to detail developments surrounding DNA evidence gathered at the crime scene, is suddenly getting a new ending.

At this writing, it’s looking like the men will be required to make guilty pleas, which is thought to be a technicality that prevents them from suing the authorities after their release.

What’s more, word also got out today — apparently via Nikke Finke’s Deadline Hollywood — that the long investigation on behalf of the WM3 was partly driven by funding and support from none other than Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who seem to have a personal stake in outsider culture.

Like Errol Morris’ groundbreaking The Thin Blue Line before it, it looks like the Paradise Lost series will go down in film history as one of those documentaries that makes a real difference.