I was stranded at my house on Friday, since, unbeknownst to me, my bus pass had run expired, making it impossible for me to get to the office (it’s about 9 miles and just a little too far for a walk). So, unable to get to work, which was a pretty grueling experience, I have to tell you, I started doing the only work I really had, which was viewing some of the various death penalty documentaries that I had borrowed from the office to try to access some of their value as organizing tools.
Now I’m always looking for short videos (10-20 minutes) to go along with presentations. A 10 minute video can really help make an hour long talk interesting. We have a few of these, but I like the ABA’s call for a moratorium, which does a great job of talking about some of the problems in the legal system. The only issue I have with it is that it is out of date, still calling for the elimination of the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded.
But I’m thinking now, primarily, of films as events. Film screenings where people come to sit back and learn a nd then maybe take part in a discussion, petition signing etc. There are a few terrific documentaries out there, like “Deadline” regarding the Illinois moratorium or “The Empty Chair” that Amnesty International used as a central part of their organizing for the National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty. Both are really informative and well done (both are available through working films). But you run into a problem with documentaries (much like any other lecture, talk etc.: It is hard to get people to come!
So what’s are solution? People have tried using popular films, “Dead Man Walking” is a favorite of mine, that deal with the death penalty (others that I think have even more limited utility would include “The Life of David Gale” and “The Green Mile”) because they have larger drawing power, but how well do they really deal with the death penalty issue? Most popular films and television shows are not directly “anti-death penalty” and may not make our points so much as go for emotionalism. Is exploring the issue in an often cursory, although entertaining, manner enough? What have people found? What kind of films and cultural events go well? Which attract people and which send people away empowered and invigorated? I’ll keep you all (or y’all as we say here in Tennessee) updated on my experiments in this regard. We’ll be doing a screening of some kind at Vanderbilt in a few months, I may try an episode of “The West Wing” that dealt with the death penalty and see how we do with that.
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