In Memoriam: San Francisco Public Defender and Filmmaker Jeff Adachi

A middle aged Japanese American man is smiling at the camera.
Jeff Adachi at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Photo by Albert Chau.
Jeff was San Francisco's Public Defender, a filmmaker, and a fearless advocate for justice.

This weekend, we were saddened to learn of the death of Jeff Adachi. Jeff was San Francisco’s Public Defender, a filmmaker, and a fearless advocate for justice. CAAM had the pleasure of working with Jeff as a documentary filmmaker, including The Slanted Screen (2006), You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story (2009), and The Ride (2017), which was expanded into a feature length documentary Defender, co-directed by Jim Choi. CAAM commissioned The Ride to focus on Jeff’s work defending the underrepresented, underprivileged, and disenfranchised. Jeff was 59 and it is reported that he died from a heart attack.

A statement from CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong:

The news of Jeff Adachi’s death shocked all of us who had grown accustomed to Jeff’s tireless energy and boundless joy for the work of the SF Public Defender’s office, for the Asian American community, and for the craft of documentary film. His untimely passing saddens and hurts all of us whose lives were brightened and made better by this remarkable community leader and gifted filmmaker.

Watching Defender take shape confirmed to me the core passion for justice and equality that animated all of Jeff’s work. It was an honor and a privilege to have known him. All of us at CAAM send our deepest condolences to Jeff’s family and to his colleagues at the Public Defender’s office.

CAAM is planning a special program to honor Jeff. Please stay tuned.

The Slanted Screen is available to watch for free through Kanopy, a collection of films available for many library card holders, including those in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and other libraries around the country.

Over the weekend, many people noted Jeff’s impact as a public defender and his passion for serving the ones who lacked a voice. Actor Daniel Dae Kim narrated The Slanted Screen: