Even as he slipped the diamond ring onto his new bride’s finger, the film began rewinding–back to Sierra Leone, to the mine, to the moment when the slave who dug up the stone had had his arm hacked off. The message: “A diamond is forever, but so’s the stump.” It’s a visceral-yet-entertaining twist on the gauzy De Beers ads we all know, done in a style that has become the hallmark of Free Range Studios. Started in 1999 by Jonah Sachs and Louis Fox, the agency turns uncomfortable subjects–human-rights atrocities in Saudi Arabia, working conditions at Wal-Mart–into online Flash animation that moves millions through inexpensive viral campaigns. Since its “Blood Diamond” campaign for Amnesty International in 2000 helped get the Clean Diamond Trade Act passed, the Washington, DC–Berkeley shop, which is now profitable, has created work for clients including the ACLU and Greenpeace. Its most recent project, “The Meatrix,” an award-winning mini-trilogy, exposed grim factory farming practices through the eyes of a cadre of Matrix-inspired barnyard animals. “We routinely turn down work that doesn’t fit our mission,” says Sachs.
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