S.F. Public Defender Launches ‘The Adachi Project’

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Jeff Adachi with Fred and Kathryn Korematsu in 2001. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office on Feb. 4 launched The Adachi Project, a first-of-its-kind storytelling initiative that illuminates powerful stories and unseen perspectives of the U.S. criminal legal system via compelling documentary film, video, and photojournalism.

“We are incredibly excited to announce The Adachi Project, which honors and advances the work of my predecessor and friend, Jeff Adachi, and opens a rare window into our legal system and the individuals and communities who are deeply affected by it,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “It is our job as public defenders to illustrate the humanity of our clients and to advance much-needed criminal legal system reforms — and I believe that this storytelling project will help us do that.”

The project is inspired by late San Francisco public defender and filmmaker Jeff Adachi (1959-2019) and created with S.F.-based founding partners Compound, led by Santhosh Daniel, and award-winning cultural and creative studio Even/Odd, led by Mohammad Gorjestani and Malcolm Pullinger. Its creative goal is to use the lens of public defenders and the communities they represent, as well others impacted by the criminal legal system, to elevate the voices of all people, and produce media that “expands understanding of the human impact of ‘justice’ on our communities, and influences our vision for an equal and just society.”

“Jeff Adachi was a visionary attorney who transformed the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office into a national model for legal defense. Impressively, he somehow also found the time to make films to educate the public and elevate the voices of those who have become entangled by the justice system,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who authored a San Francisco Board of Supervisors resolution to support the creation of The Adachi Project. “I am proud to support this unique project that will shine a light into the dark corners of a system deeply in need of reform and humanity.”

The project is a first-of-its-kind media initiative to be produced by a U.S. public defender office, as well as one of the first projects of its kind to be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (on Dec. 5, 2020) and produced via the office of an elected official (Raju). It is also one of a handful of initiatives that remember the life and work of a San Francisco public official through a commemorative legacy project that represents the work, and community, of the office in which he/she served.

“Jeff often compared making a film to preparing for trial and at the time of his passing, he had a vision to merge those two things into a series about public defenders. As friends and colleagues, we couldn’t give up on that idea, but we also saw an opportunity to expand on it and do something no other public defender’s office, or city, had ever done,” says Daniel.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju talks about the legacy of his predecessor, Jeff Adachi.

The genesis of project was in early 2019, shortly after Adachi’s untimely passing, through conversations between Raju, other key members of the Public Defender’s Office and founding partner Daniel, who served with Adachi on the Board of California Humanities — the state’s representative arm of the National Endowment for the Humanities — and proposed a commemorative fund to support independent artists and filmmakers creating criminal justice media, similar to the type of films directed and produced by Adachi.

This idea then evolved into a bolder, more community-centered proposal to use local talent (in support the city’s creative economy) to produce media in direct collaboration with the Public Defender’s Office, resulting in the unprecedented creative partnership with Compound (Daniel) and Even/Odd (Gorjestani and Pullinger) — the former leading the project’s communications and impact-strategy, and the latter leading creative direction and production of media.

“The artistic potential of The Adachi Project is only surpassed by its potential to remedy the plagues of injustice in our broken system through the power of storytelling,” says Gorjestani. “Public defenders are cultural superheroes that not only defend, but honor, the communities they serve. As citizens of San Francisco, first and foremost, this project is also our civic duty. While this partnership is specific to Frisco, the themes we will be exploring transcend local issues and speak to the zeitgeist of socioeconomic and racial reckoning in America. We are excited to get to work and reveal the incredible, intrepid work of the San Francisco public defender.”

The inaugural works of the project include films that spotlight “re-entry,” as seen through the eyes of residents in one of the state’s many halfway houses and re-entry programs, and an individual’s first few hours of “freedom,” after just being resentenced and released.

Also included is an exploration of how the COVID health crisis is being addressed in county jails, and a photo essay on police violence and community consciousness, as framed by the life and death of Mario Woods.

All inaugural works will be presented under the creative identity of “Defender-Vol. 00,” a digital publication with official release this month, and future works will be released by the project on a rolling basis, as a progressive tribute to Adachi.

“My husband was dedicated to challenging injustice inside and outside the courtroom,” says Mutsuko Adachi. “He loved his clients, and his incredible ability to tell their stories – both in court and through his films – were among his proudest achievements. He would be so pleased to know that the Public Defender’s Office that he transformed over the past three decades is carrying on his legacy of exposing injustice through the arts.”

About The Adachi Project Partners

San Francisco Public Defender’s Office (http://SFPublicDefender.org)

For 100 years, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has provided effective and zealous legal representation to people who are charged with a crime and unable to afford an attorney. Led by elected Public Defender Mano Raju, the office provides legal representation to over 25,000 indigent people charged with crimes each year.

Compound | Communications and Impact Strategy (www.compoundcreate.com)

Compound is a San Francisco- and Seattle-based creative strategies studio whose role is to manage and direct the project’s communications and impact strategy. Led by Santhosh Daniel, the studio’s current and past partners include Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Virgin America, Medium, U.S. Department of State, Smithsonian, Oakland Museum of California and Umpqua Bank; and productions such as the “Open Account” podcast and film “Liquid Flow.” Daniel also brings experience as former head of The Global Film Initiative; advisor to media funds such as the California Documentary Project and California Arts Council Public Media Grants; board member of California Humanities and Found Sound Nation; and advisor to the Quentin Cooks professional program at San Quentin State Prison to his role with The Adachi Project.

Even/Odd | Creative Direction and Production (www.evenoddfilms.com)

Even/Odd is an award-winning San Francisco- and Los Angeles-based creative studio, research team, and production company whose role is to lead the project’s creative direction and production of content. Led by Mohammad Gorjestani and Malcolm Pullinger, the studio has earned a Cannes Lion, the Tribeca X Award, four Webby Awards, the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW, Clio Awards, and has been featured by outlets including The Guardian, New York Times, The Atlantic, VICE, The New Yorker, and more. They are a proud, minority-owned studio with industry-leading inclusivity practices providing a platform for diverse and urgent voices, and Gorjestani and Pullinger bring over 20 years of collective creative multi-disciplinary experience to their role with The Adachi Project.

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