The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History: An example of the POWER of film in telling our nonprofit and community stories.
Some may wonder why I am posting a movie review today…. Movies are magnificent venues for sharing our stories with the world, Where film can be very powerful: A brief video presentation on your website, A short video of your community members, volunteers or clients talking about the work our organization does can engage a new supporter. A five minute film telling the story of your organization, your people that includes a specific, genuine and moving ask to to invest (time, talent and/or treasures) can move someone to take action and get involved. Using clips or soundbites from famous movies, television or video can make a presentation say WOW to your audience.
One of my clients, Gideon’s Promise had the opportunity to have a documentary film maker follow their organization for three years, and the result is the beautiful and powerful film, Gideon’s Army. The young lawyers featured in the film are truly — everyday — the heros they are in this film.
Part of their success is that they are supported by a dynamic 501 c 3 nonprofit organization. Gideon’s Promise trains, supports and mentors the lawyers featured in this film, and many more to be able to stay in the work. Gideon’s Promise is building a network and community for build a new cadre of talented, supported lawyers who have a rich community of peers, faculty, alumni and community leaders investing in them, as lawyers and as people. Since the film just came out it will be interesting to see what the long-term benefit will be to support the field of indigent defense. I am interested in following this, studying it and really learning about what it means for a community organization to become an “overnight film sensation.” And with so many deserving lawyers how will attorneys be selected from such a deep pool of talent. Even prior to the film being made the requests to join the training far outweigh the limited resources needed to fund every DESERVING, talented and passionate young lawyer who wants to participate in the program. To learn more and to get involved go to http://www.gideonspromise.org.
I would look to share this film with you and 1) Hear your thoughts, ideas and stories 2) hear you ideas about what you can do to support your cause with photos, film, stories and 3) what you thought about the film. I would personally LOVE to hear for you, your colleagues, your friends and families. Please share.
I know the folks at Gideon’s Promise would love to hear from YOU!
The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History
HBO premiered the documentary Gideon’s Army, a searing look at the ways courts fall short on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Gideon’s Army is still available on HBOGO/HBOOnDemand and is playing at film festivals across the Nation. (Martha’s Vineyard this week!)
highlighted below is the Trail from Gideon’s Amry and a 8 minute Op-Documentary the New York Times created about the film. Check they out and PLEASE take a minute to let me know your thoughts and impressions. Looking forward to taking to you. Glorious Mondays All. Enjoy a great week.
Foot Soldiers in the Battle for a Fair Shake
Defending the Underclass, in ‘Gideon’s Army’
Brandy Alexander is a public defender in the film “Gideon’s Army.”
Published: June 27, 2013
The title of Dawn Porter’s stirring documentary,“Gideon’s Army,” refers to the legion of idealistic public defenders fighting for equal justice in a land where not everybody can afford a high-priced defense attorney. That army is named after Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested in 1961 for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall in Panama City, Fla.
More About This Movie
Travis Williams, a public defender in “Gideon’s Army.”
Convicted of theft after representing himself at trial, Gideon appealed the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in a landmark 1963 decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, that the right to counsel in criminal court is fundamental to the American system of justice.
The decision ushered in a nationwide system of public defenders representing clients who are too poor to pay for their legal defense. Today the disparity between the haves and have-nots is such that most of the 12 million people arrested in the United States each year will be represented by one of the country’s 15,000 public defenders.
The processing of these cases, in which most of those arrested plead guilty to reduce their sentences, lacks the high drama of television shows like “Law & Order” and its spinoffs. But thousands of lives are in the balance and can be destroyed even before trial. June Hardwick, a Mississippi public defender, cites the case of a skilled laborer who lost her house, job and possessions while in pretrial detention because she couldn’t afford bail. (Ms. Hardwick has since left the profession to go into politics.)
The film devotes most of its attention to Travis Williams and Brandy Alexander, public defenders in Georgia who dedicate their lives to representing America’s underclass. It is emotionally grueling work in which both struggle to maintain their humanity. In the words of Mr. Williams, who handles 120 cases at a time and has no room left for a personal life, “Everybody’s in an emergency state.”
Some of the defenders’ strongest support comes from the Southern Public Defender Training Center, whose charismatic leader, Jonathan Rapping, offers practical instruction and group sessions at which the public defenders air their frustrations and share their war stories. Mr. Rapping praises them as “foot soldiers” who will eventually change “this unjust, cruel, inhumane criminal justice system.”
The public defenders know only too well that many, if not most, of their clients are guilty. Ms. Alexander recalls that one threatened to kill her if she lost the case. Another bragged about raping his 12-year-old daughter. She muses out loud that some people seem to be born bad.
“Gideon’s Army” examines two cases of armed robbery, for which conviction in Georgia carries a minimum sentence of 10 years without parole and a maximum of life imprisonment. In both cases, the movie doesn’t try to assess innocence or guilt but to show its lawyers mounting the best defenses possible with minimal resources.
Mr. Williams represents Branden Lee Mullin, a young man who robbed a pizzeria of $96 with his best friend. Ms. Alexander’s 17-year-old client, Demontes Regary Wright, is arrested by a swarm of police officers in a raid and charged with armed robbery. Mr. Wright, she says, is exceptionally bright. If he succeeds in avoiding prison, she believes he has the potential to lead a productive life. The film’s last 15 minutes are devoted to his trial, at which she tries to establish “reasonable doubt” about his guilt.
“Gideon’s Army” is a bare film with no narrator and a minimal soundtrack. That’s all it needs to grab you by the throat.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan and will be shown on HBO starting on Monday at 5:20 a.m and 9 p.m.
Directed by Dawn Porter; written by Ms. Porter and Matthew Hamachek; directors of photography, Chris Hilleke and Patrick Sheehan; edited by Mr. Hamachek; music by Paul Brill; produced by Ms. Porter and Julie Goldman; released by HBO Documentary Films. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is not rated.