This documentary tells the larger than life story of Mark DeFriest, an infamous prison escape artist - the "Houdini of Florida" - whose notoriety and struggle with mental illness threaten his quest to be freed after 31 years behind bars.
The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest is a hybrid of documentary film and animation. The filmed portions chronicle Mark's life - from his childhood through a modern day parole story - while the animations reveal the hyperactive world of his mind - from planning ingenious escapes to the sci-fi prison universe he inhabits.
You can watch the full trailer here:
Mark DeFriest's life is living history. At age 19, his original sentence was for a nonviolent property crime, but because of additional punishment for escapes, he has spent his entire adult life behind bars. DeFriest has survived 31 years in prison, most of it in longterm solitary confinement in a custom cell above the electric chair at Florida State Prison. He has been raped, beaten, shot and basically left for dead, but he has somehow lived to tell the tale. When he was sent to prison in 1981, five out of six doctors declared that he was mentally incompetent to be sentenced. They warned the judges that Mark couldn't learn better behavior and needed treatment. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty, even at one point to a Life Sentence.
The documentary brings this story to life. True to the psychiatrists' expectations, Mark has amassed an astonishing number of disciplinary reports in prison for things like possession of escape paraphernalia, but also for behavioral violations like telling the guards his name was James Bond. "He's a little bit crazy, a little bit manipulative, but not really a bad person", as his former lawyer puts it. Apparently that point was lost on the system, as Mark has always been held with the worst of the worst. In a solitary cell, his talent for mechanics and escape turned inward, and what ensued was unexpected: art, letters, creativity.
We have gathered all the creative work that Mark has managed to send out to the world, but for someone so buried, the real filmmaking task was gaining access to film with him behind bars. When it finally happened, after 8 years making the film, we knew we had the backbone of our narrative but still needed a way to bring the story to life.
The "Houdini of Florida" has achieved many "firsts" in prison, as he likes to say, and in so doing, he has left behind 1000s of pages of records of his disciplinary reports, letters and his own drawings and art, all of which serve as creative material in the film (see Kickstarter rewards). Much of the documentary has a collage-like feel as we mix and meld elements in graphical sequences, but to really tie it all together and see the world as he saw it, we needed to imagine it in animation. We started with rough animations, and we're now creating animation that connects the whole story - from escapes to his custom cell - with a common visual style.
We're working with Smart Bubble Society to make Mark's world as immersive and astonishing as it should be. Through animation, we are conjuring Mark's inner world: a man of prodigious mechanical intelligence does not see locks and doors as we do, and the tiny prison cell he inhabits for so long develops depth and transporting abilities that live in his mind's eye. His incredible escapes will be brought to life and the nightmarish misery of Florida State Prison's X-Wing - far from his home planet, KT-95 - can take shape as the sci-fi world that Mark describes.
A story like Mark DeFriest's wants for more than an audience; it needs a community. So first and foremost, Kickstarter is a chance to find people that connect with this story and want to be part of bringing the film to life. We need the Kickstarter funds to help complete our animations, which are already being created as we begin this campaign (stay tuned for updates). In fact, we could use more than $20,000, as additional funding would allow us to go further with our animators, building complexity and layering that mimics Mark's mind.
The funding we raise on Kickstarter will go directly to support the animations we are creating with Smart Bubble. We have a 3 phase relationship plotted out: Phase 1 (in progress) is a proof-of-concept animation sequence. Phase 2 will be to storyboard the entire film. Phase 3 is where Kickstarter support comes in, and entails completing the animation sequences in the film. What we can afford to do in Phase 3 is based on a sliding scale: the more we raise, the more motion and detail we can create in the animation.
This is a story 31 years in the making, just waiting to be told. Thanks for your interest in the project and, if you like it enough, for helping us with a donation to get through the final creative phase.
Why I'm Telling This Story
Let me count the reasons: from Mark's personal struggle for freedom to the plight of 2.3 million prisoners, I believe telling this story can help further the cause of justice in Mark's life and speak to the wasted talents of a generation behind bars.
In 2001, I made a movie with Human Rights Watch about prison rape that told the story of one youth, Rodney Hulin, to speak for the many thousands of inmates impacted by the issue. As a testament to the power of story, Rodney - even after his death - was instrumental to the US Congress passing the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In Mark's case, the promise of his story is that it can speak to so many issues with how we imprison people - from longterm isolation to the imprisonment of the mentally ill - while entertaining a diverse audience with his outsized personality and incredible escape artist feats.
I believe this film can change how people see Mark DeFriest and the 2.3 million people in prison, maybe even helping - like Rodney - to influence how we treat troubled people in our society. But unlike with Rodney, there is still the chance for the audience to help write a different ending for Mark's story.
Spread the Word
Besides making a pledge, you can help this film get funded by sharing the campaign with your friends on Facebook, Twitter or email.
Here are a few sample tweets and updates to get you started...
Check out this Kickstarter campaign for The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, an animated documentary about America's greatest living escape artist. Watch the trailer, share the link and pledge a few dollars if you can to help them reach their goal by Christmas Day! http://kck.st/UKTAz1
What do you get when you cross animation, documentary and 27 years in solitary confinement? The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, a story about America's greatest living escape artist, now raising funds on Kickstarter. Check it out!
This film needs your support on Kickstarter: The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, a story about America's greatest living escape artist, who spent 27 years in solitary confinement despite clear signs of mental illness. Fascinating subject.
Risks and challenges
The risk lies in not finishing the film the way we imagine it, and thus not doing justice to Mark's story. The more funds we raise, the greater chance we can create the animations as a complete vision, linking all parts of Mark's story under a common creative approach that truly elevates the film in a cinematic style.
The challenge - as it always has been - will be to raise sufficient funds to the task at hand. While we're confident we can finish the film with existing funds and funding sources (such as broadcast presales) + what we raise through Kickstarter, the actual film will change depending on how much we can put back into animation, music and the other final elements. So while there is no guarantee we can raise the funding to do all of it the way we want to do it, we know the film will be completed in 2013.
With Kickstarter support the road to the finish line is clear, and as we travel that road, 'rewards' will be shipped as they become available. For example, the rewards related to Mark DeFriest's artwork are ready to ship, while rewards like a completed DVD of the film will take as long as a year depending on distribution deals and other rights issues. We have tried to be honest and clear on when the rewards will be available, and expect to be able to follow through on our side of the bargain.
We are near the end of an 11-year filmmaking odyssey about a man trapped for 31 years behind bars, so suffice it so say: we're anxious to get this done and out to the world! Thanks for your interest in the project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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