Earlier this month, Philadelphia’s reform-oriented District Attorney Larry Krasner cruised to a landslide victory in his bid for re-election, consolidating power behind his efforts to remake the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania’s largest city. For anyone interested in understanding how Krasner was able to gain that position and wield the power of that office, we have a remarkable account of his journey in “Philly DA,” an eight-part PBS documentary series. The series debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, was originally broadcast in April nationally, and is going to be rebroadcast in some locations over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, viewers can watch anywhere on the PBS platform.
In collaboration with our partners at Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) and the Justice Reform Working Group of Philanthropy New York, Media Impact Funders recently convened an enlightening discussion about the documentary series with one of the filmmakers, along with a prominent subject of the film series, as well as funders representing different perspectives in philanthropy. Watch here:
We started this surprising journey with filmmaker Yoni Brook, who—along with colleagues Ted Passon and Nicole Salazar—followed Krasner’s longshot outsider candidacy through to his victory and into the halls of power as District Attorney, with incredible access to document the most candid, intimate and controversial aspects of the challenging work of reforming the carceral system. We also heard from LaTonya Myers, who had been entangled in the parole system most of her life. Now free from the restraints of parole, Myers is advocating for others caught up in the uneven justice system simply struggling to survive in poverty, through the organization she founded, Above All Odds.
Chi-hui Yang, Senior Program Officer for the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative, talked about his organization’s flexible support for this unusual project, which evolved from a short film to a feature film and on to become a much longer series with an elaborate community outreach plan designed to promote dialogue and debate in communities nationwide. Nyoka Acevedo, Program Officer for the Andrus Family Fund, acknowledged the importance of elevating voices like LaTonya Myers’ in confronting structures of systemic racism and the importance of supporting media and communications advocates such as Color of Change, which are working to center these voices on an ongoing basis.
Hugh Hogan, Executive Director of the van Ameringen Foundation, noted the special impact of “Philly DA” as a piece of media addressing a critical set of issues through a compelling and “watchable” treatment of the subject. As well, it helped to illuminate issues and needs in Philadelphia in a manner that helps to confirm the philanthropic priorities his foundation, set forth in a series of grants in the Philadelphia region.
“Philly DA” is itself a powerful and dramatic documentary series. And we hope that our discussion about how it was made and how it informs philanthropy is also important for funders to appreciate the special quality of this project and implications for their work more broadly.