Ghosts of Attica

film poster

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.

"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.” —indieWIRE

Other Ways to Watch


Home use DVD for $29.98

Available online from:

Colleges, Universities, Government Agencies, Hospitals, and Corporations

Purchase DVD for $348.00

Available for educational streaming from:


Produced by David Van Taylor and Brad Lichtenstein
Directed by Brad Lichtenstein
Narrated by Susan Sarandon

Select Accolades

  • 2002 Dupont-Columbia University Award for Journalistic Excellence
  • Editor's Choice, Video Librarian (May-June 2002)
  • 2002 CINE Gold Eagle
  • 2002 DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival


Exposes the violence occurring inside prisons throughout America, where prisoners are routinely abused, even tortured, by prison guards.

Nick London | 2005 | 48 minutes | Color | English

A critical look at America's booming private prison industry.

Catherine Scott | 2001 | 52 minutes | Color | English