The Mind of Mark DeFriest

Challenge

Before the current consensus for criminal justice reform, Found Object partner, Gabriel London, began developing a film on a brilliant prison escape artist with a questionable conviction that trapped him behind bars. When, 13 years later, we premiered The Mind of Mark DeFriest at HotDocs, the great question was how to take a moving narrative and give it real world impact.

With a small earned and social media budget, coupled with periodic film festival and university screenings, what could we accomplish for criminal justice reform and DeFriest, himself?

Insight

Audiences at screenings that ask “what can I do?” deserve an answer and are primed to join a criminal justice campaign.

At early screenings, we saw that Mark DeFriest’s story moved audiences and prompted them to act, both in his case and in a

broader conversation about criminal justice reform. A parole hearing and the national political debate both benefit from the inclusion of the voices of the people, and we could give impassioned viewers opportunities to engage and make a difference.

Approach

Beginning with a series of screenings at film festivals and universities, we launched the “Court of Public Opinion Tour” in the lead-up to an important hearing for Mark DeFriest. We created opportunities for experts and panelists to speak to audiences, while audiences were empowered to vote on paper ballots to voice what they believed should happen with the case and to “Take Action” through a microsite.

Coupled with social media messaging, blog posts at Huffington Post and an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat, we elevated the voices of our audiences and when the hearing came we had national media interest, vocal audience engagement and DeFriest was granted parole (somewhat miraculously).

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