Captivating True Crime Doc ‘Philly DA’ Closes Out Sundance Film Festival 2021

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on election night, premiering at Sundance Film Festival.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on election night, premiering at Sundance Film Festival 2021. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Yoni Brook.
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a long history of prosecutorial misconduct, fraud and gross abuse, as well as police corruption – going back decades. The election of Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, in 2017 sent a message that the citizens of Philadelphia are fed up. After all, in 2017, Philadelphia had one of the highest incarceration rates of any major city in the United States. The result of mass incarceration adversely impacting people of color. Philly DA is an eight-episode series on PBS that follows the emboldened campaign of Krasner, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney for over 30 years. 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner with the team. Philly DA, directed by Ted  Passion and Toni Brook, premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner with the team. Philly DA, directed by Ted Passion and Yoni Brook, premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

In 2017, Krasner mounted a long shot campaign to become District Attorney, he ran on a bold pledge: to end mass incarceration by changing the culture of the criminal justice system from within. He shocked the establishment by winning in a landslide. Krasner refers to this as “the movement.” 

The series reveals information about how the public has been very misguided by prior administrations. One of Krasner’s main objectives is transparency. When asked about aspects of the job regarding re-educating the public, Krasner explained, “Part of the problem is that we are dealing with narratives that are very old, they’re very unscientific, they’re very emotional and based in fear. So, you have to tell stories with facts. You have to tell it with numbers, but you also have to be able to reach people’s hearts by telling them true stories. You are up against a political status quo and a media status quo that is not used to telling a true story this way…so you have to tell a story.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner contemplates the back history of the department. Philly DA premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner contemplates the back history of the department. Philly DA premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Yoni Brook.

Within his quest for change and transparency, Krasner is confronted by a resistant police department and union. In one scene in the first episode, it is discovered that some of the District Attorney Office staff who were “let go” by Krasner, wiped some the internal drives prior to their departure. Members of the staff scour filing cabinets – hundreds of folders – and discover a “do not call” list of police officers and detectives documenting a history of police abuse, corruption and illegal behavior. One scene reveals an image of a detective going through the cell phone of a Black person who was fatally shot. The detective admittedly did not have a warrant to do so. However, that detective testified that he had not reviewed the contents of the cell phone. This revelation unravels a larger, and rather disturbing, scale history of constitutional violations and illegal behavior to cover up internal fraud and immorality. 

The series illustrates how additional “for profit” prisons were opened as a result of increased convictions, many of innocent people, and mass incarceration. Philly DA contends with issues such as cash bail, the opioid crisis, gun violence and resistance to change from within the system. Philly DA discloses issues relevant to the entire defunct criminal justice system in America. It is compelling, eye-opening and provocative on a level that even surpasses the hit Netflix episodic series, Making A Murderer.

Philly DA is set to air on PBS’ Independent Lens in the Spring of 2021. 

About Jillian Dale 57 Articles
Film festival coverage and digital content ninja.

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