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Ghosts of Attica

Ghosts of Attica

Attica. Like Watergate and Vietnam, it is an icon of recent history. Gov. Rockefeller's brutal re-taking of the prison - a nine-minute, 1600-bullet assault that took the lives of 29 inmates and 10 guards - put an end to the four-day rebellion. But the struggle for justice, by both prisoners and guards, has endured for three decades. Only last year, inmates wrested an historic $12-million settlement from the state, and that bittersweet victory spurred a new round of agitation by guards and their survivors.

This stirring documentary features extensive interviews with Attica survivors, including former inmate Frank 'Black' Smith. When the riot broke out, the inmates, who respected his level head, imposing size, and maturity, appointed him Chief of Security. After the prison was stormed, Black was singled out for vicious treatment by the guards, who tortured him for hours with cigarettes, Russian roulette, and threatened castration and death. In the years since his release, Black overcame a drug habit, married, and became a drug counselor for juveniles.

Also interviewed is Mike Smith, who, then 22 years old and married with a child, was a guard who was taken hostage and subsequently wounded by police fire. But more recently, he took on a new role: that of political agitator. He is currently lobbying Governor Pataki for compensation, counseling, and an apology from the State.

Elizabeth Fink, the attorney who headed the inmates' decades-long legal battles against New York State, is also interviewed. Fink has devoted her entire career to the surviving inmates. Other interviews include those with New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, Congressman Herman Badillo, Assemblyman Arthur Eve, and civil rights lawyer William Kunstler.

GHOSTS OF ATTICA offers the definitive account of America's most violent prison rebellion, its suppression, and the days of torture that ensued. Using exclusive, newly uncovered video of the assault, interviews with eyewitnesses who've never spoken before on-camera, and footage of inmates and hostages throughout their battles against the state, this film unravels one of America's deepest cover-ups, and shows how the legendary prison riot transformed the lives of its survivors.

'****(Four Stars). Highly recommended. Recounting the entire fiasco and the government cover-up that followed, while documenting Elizabeth Fink's legal battle... this fine documentary also addresses the demands of the guards that were wounded in the attack and of the families of the guards killed in the police action... Well-edited and loaded with revealing photographs and cogent commentary... this is an exceptional piece of filmmaking.'-Video Librarian

'An excellent and constantly engaging primer on the horrific riot... the ghosts of Attica are very much alive '-The Hollywood Reporter

'One of [the] best documentaries in quite a while. Absolutely chilling.'-New York Daily News

'A hard-hitting documentary... This film is masterful in its portrayal of the fear, raw emotion, and lingering pain of Attica survivors. It presents brutal, graphic detail of an event indicative of a turbulent time in America's history. Highly Recommended.'-Educational Media Reviews Online

'Powerful and disturbing...a timely film that is likely to fuel the continuing debate over how our society deals with those that are incarcerated.'

'Unsparing... 'Ghosts' is timely for more than historical reasons'-New York Times


Main credits

Lichtenstein, Brad (film producer)
Lichtenstein, Brad (film director)
McBaine, Amanda (film producer)
Sarandon, Susan (narrator)

Other credits

Edited by Tom Haneke; photographed by Ken Druckerman; music by Vernon Reid.

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

African American Studies
American Studies
Civil Rights
Criminal Justice
History (U.S.)
Human Rights
Media Studies
Race and Racism


film; video; documentary; Attica; prison; jail; convict; inmate ; guard; riot; uprising; human rights; civil rights; New York; compensation; cover up; torture; penology; ; "Ghosts of Attica"; Icarus Films,doc; history; sociss

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