San Francisco Public Defender Launches ‘The Adachi Project’

First-of-Its-Kind Media Initiative Spotlights Public Defenders and Underrepresented Perspectives of the Criminal Legal System in Tribute to Late-Public Defender and Filmmaker Jeff Adachi 

Special to the Vanguard

It has been two years since the tragic death of Jeff Adachi in 2019 and as a way to honor his legacy, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office 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. 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,” says Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender.

The Project is inspired by late San Francisco Public Defender and filmmaker, Jeff Adachi (1959-2019), and created with SF-based founding partners, Compound, led by Santhosh Daniel, and the 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 Adachi 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 12/05/20), and produced via the office of an elected official, Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender. It also carries the distinction of being 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 they 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 Santhosh Daniel, of Compound and founding partner of the Adachi Project.

The genesis of the Adachi Project was in early-2019, shortly after Jeff Adachi’s untimely passing, through conversations between Mano Raju, Public Defender, other key members of the Office and founding partner, Santhosh Daniel. Daniel 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. 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,” says Mohammad Gorjestani, of Even/Odd and founding partner of the Adachi Project.

The inaugural works of the Adachi Project, produced by Even/Odd with the SF Public Defender’s Office and Compound, include films that spotlight “reentry,” as seen through the eyes of residents in one of the state’s many halfway houses and reentry 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 in February 2021 — and future works will be released by the Project on rolling-basis, as a progressive tribute to the life of Jeff Adachi.

“My husband was dedicated to challenging injustice inside and outside the courtroom. 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,” says Mutsuko Adachi, wife of Jeff Adachi.

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