Gideon's Army Directed by Dawn Porter June 21 at 5 p.m.. at National Portrait Gallery and June 22 at 11 a.m. at AFI Silver

When you watch an episode of Law & Order, public defenders aren’t the most significant characters in the story. They’re the people on the sidelines, defending the guy who every viewer assumes is guilty. But in the world beyond television, public defenders play an incredibly important role, defending the majority of the 12 million Americans who are arrested every year. Gideon’s Army, named for Clarence Gideon, the Florida man whose Supreme Court case led to the decision that trained lawyers must be provided to all defendants even if they can’t pay, follows three defenders in the Deep South who struggle daily to serve their clients while dealing with too much work and too little money. It’s the unpublicized details of this career that really grip you: One lawyer describes being threatened with murder by a former client and living paycheck to paycheck; another says he drew up a contract with his girlfriend in order to make himself stop working on the more than 100 cases he’s assigned at any given time. Seeing these people give all of themselves to their jobs because they’re so committed is devastating, but the brief moments of joy—when a client is released from jail or acquitted—makes their suffering almost worth it. At the very least, you’ll leave with a newfound respect for these legal heroes.

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