Archives / 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Gideon's Army

Director: Dawn Porter

Description

Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.
—Elie Wiesel

In 1963, the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteed all defendants facing imprisonment the right to a lawyer. Now, every year millions of Americans facing trial rely on fewer than 15,000 public defenders, and the country’s justice system hangs in the balance. Gideon’s Army confronts this crisis head-on, tracking a group of young southern public defenders hell-bent on protecting the sanctity of human liberty.

Taut, visceral filmmaking plunges us into the unbelievably demanding lives of three fledgling public defenders in Georgia and Mississippi. Not only are they juggling hundreds of cases independently, but their offices don’t have adequate resources, and their salaries barely cover personal expenses—including six-figure law-school debts.

As all three lawyers harness ingenuity, perseverance, and adrenaline to fight for their indigent clients, we wonder: How long can they keep working in a constant state of emergency? Will they find the moral support to sustain this higher calling? And if not, what happens to our democracy?

(Archives note: see also Dawn Porter's Meet The Artist interview on our YouTube Channel.)

— C.L.

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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