IFC Tackles Debate Over Death Penalty


IFC is launching a grass-roots marketing campaign in support of one of its upcoming documentary presentations, a campaign sure to gain attention due to the divisive issue at its core: the death penalty.

The Cablevision Systems-owned independent-film network is promoting a series of local screenings to garner attention to the TV debut of the film At the Death House Door on May 29. The issue has also been debated at a series of local events, featuring issue advocates and attorneys.

“We just want people to talk about the issue,” said Jennifer Caserta, executive vice president of marketing, communications, scheduling and alternative programming.

The goal is to get 1 million people to attend the screenings and talk about the documentary before it is shown on the channel, she added.

IFC partnered with New York-based marketing and promotions agency Civic Entertainment Group to develop and implement the campaign.

At the Death House Door depicts the story of the wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna, and the life of the Death House chaplain, Carroll Pickett, who spent the last day of the convict's life with him.

The focus then switches to Pickett and his life's journey, discussing why DeLuna's execution bothered him more than any other he had witnessed. The film also tracks the investigative efforts of a team of Chicago Tribune reporters who unearthed data that suggests that DeLuna was innocent of the crime for which he was killed.

The documentary is timely: It examines the practice of death by lethal injection in Texas, which was subjected to a moratorium by the U.S. Supreme Court. That ban ended just days ago, with the latest execution.

IFC has created “screening in a box” kits for presentation to advocacy, legal, religious and academic groups throughout the U.S. The kits include key art from the documentary, a DVD screener, promotional posters, postage-paid invitations, tips for planning and executing screenings and guides for follow-up discussions at events.

The channel has solicited interest from more than 80 organizations to present the film locally, with 18 scheduled in the Top 50 media markets. Host organizations include Amnesty International, Advocates for Human Rights, Equal Justice USA, The United Methodist Church, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Georgia, Church Women United and the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. Caserta said the channel has also reached out to death-penalty supporters, reiterating the goal of the marketing campaign it to generate discussion.

Many of the target markets also support film festivals. The documentary made its debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, in early March. That screening led into the other prong of the marketing strategy: hearings in state capitals.

Discussions were also held in Sacramento, Calif., on May 12 and at the North Carolina Capitol Building in Raleigh on May 14. The filmmakers, Pickett and members of the Tribune's investigative team took part in the hearings, called “Perspectives at the Death House Door: A Special Hearing on Capital Punishment.”

“It's a timely issue. No mater how you feel, the film is inspirational,” Caserta said of the documentary.

The film has been available on IFC On Demand since May 1; the cable network will debut the documentary on May 29 at 9 p.m. PT/ET.