Dawn Porter, director and producer of “Gideon’s Army,” airing on HBO on July 1, hopes to raise the bar within the criminal justice system. Her objective is to bring about awareness on the inequity of access for those in underserved communities.
What was the mission of this film?
I always said that I was making this film for people like me. People who think they’re socially aware and socially conscious but really aren’t directly impacted by the criminal justice system. It’s very hard to appreciate how awful it can be if unless you’re on the wrong end of it. The mission was to give people the opportunity to walk in the shoes of those who live it every day.
What was surprising for you about this entire process?
We go through this theater of having people plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit in order to get a shorter sentence. Watching people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t do was most surprising. The other surprising thing to me was how normal it all seems to everybody in the system. The prosecutors think it’s normal that kids plead guilty to crimes they didn’t do. The judges think it’s normal to sentence people to 15 years for a $96 theft. I think it will be shocking to people.
You were able to trigger the audience’s emotions, as a director how did it make you feel as you told the story?
I really had a connection with the characters. There [were] many times where I was crying. What is presented is our shared conversations.
Sacrifice seems to be a recurring theme throughout the movie; individuals are “sacrificing” to be part of Gideon’s army, why?
I don’t think they see it as a sacrifice; I think they see it as necessary. It’s only when other people point it out that they start to realize how much they are actually sacrificing.
Filming “Gideon’s Army” was an eye-awakening experience that not only drew emotions from its director and cast but also the audience. “Gideon’s Army” should make people want to get enraged. This is not a story for people to feel bad about, it’s a catalyst for making change and ensuring civil liberties don’t become something of the past [for] future generations.
Dawn Porter is the founder of Trilogy Films. She is director/producer of Gideon’s Army, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and air on HBO Documentary Films. She is an alumni of the Tribeca All Access program, where she won the 2011 juried Creative Promise Award for Gideon’s Army.