Animation blends with traditional interviews to reveal the interior world of one of the most infamous prisoners in the US penal system.
In 1981, at 19, Mark DeFriest was sentenced to four years in the Florida prison system for a non-violent crime, despite being declared mentally incompetent prior to his trial by numerous experts. More than three decades later, DeFriest’s still in prison, his original sentence extended time and time again due to his frequent and ingenious escape attempts – many of them successful. Having experienced the worst of prison life – rape, violence, solitary confinement – his advocates feel it’s time to make a push for the mentally ill man’s freedom. Having gained direct access, director Gabriel London interviews the “Houdini of Florida” in prison, as well as the psychologist whose dissenting opinion on DeFriest’s competency helped secure his original conviction, and follows the prisoner’s latest parole attempt. Along the way, London uses creative animation to reveal DeFriest’s unique way of making sense of the alien world of the prison system that has been his home for his entire adult life.
London is four days away from the end of his Kickstarter campaign intended to raise funding for the film’s animation sequences. With just shy of $4000 left to raise, it looks like he should be celebrating on Christmas. For updates and more information on the project, visit its Facebook page.
As suggested by the barebones background noted above, DeFriest’s history makes him a colorful, if tragic, figure for feature documentary treatment. He is an engaging, likeable rogue – an underdog whose story points to the failings of the prison system and the maltreatment of mental illness in this nation. At the same time, the insight provided into his interior world – both his perceptions of his daily reality as well as the MacGyver-like planning of his escapes – reveal a complexity to our understanding of what “mental competency” means. I’m curious to see if real-world circumstances will allow London to bring a satisfying conclusion to DeFriest’s long prison story through this project.