The filmmaker goes on a journey of discovery to unravel the mystery of her uncle’s past as a civil rights activist and political fugitive, and in particular, his involvement in a notorious prison breakout attempt at San Quentin Prison that left 6 people dead.
As a legal aid lawyer working in California in the 1960s and early 70s, Stephen Bingham was involved in many of the progressive causes of his day, including civil rights, the farm workers’ movement, and prisoners’ rights. On August 21st, 1971, he was the last person to visit imprisoned Black Panther leader George Jackson before an alleged prison break out attempt that left six people dead. Bingham was suspected of having passed a gun to Jackson and was indicted for murder. He disappeared, and for 13 years his family didn’t know if he was dead or alive. In 1984, he suddenly returned to stand trial, and was eventually acquitted. But many unanswered questions remained.
But this is not only a story about the past. The conflicts and contradictions in American society that defined the movements of the 1960s have not faded; in fact, the issues of racism, mass incarceration, government surveillance and war are more urgent than ever. The question of individual engagement for the cause of social justice is an enduring one, as are the risks and contradictions that such engagement necessarily entails. Stephen Bingham’s story brings these questions to the forefront again, allowing us to reflect on the nature of political commitment and action in the light of the present day. It is also a personal story, told from my perspective as Stephen Bingham’s niece, a close family member trying to unravel the mystery of her uncle’s role in 1971, his disappearance, and years of exile.
When I first set out to make a film on my uncle I thought it was simply a narrative of the challenges he faced as an individual caught in the crosshairs of a specific event in history. However, as I began to research his story more, it became apparent to me that of equal importance to his own story was the story of the massive social and political movements that defined him.
Catherine Masud is an award-winning filmmaker with over 25 years of experience in producing, directing, writing and editing, working in both documentary and fictional genres. An American citizen by birth, Catherine spent much of her adult life in Bangladesh, working together with her late husband and filmmaking partner Tareque Masud. She produced, co-wrote, and edited the acclaimed feature THE CLAY BIRD, which won the International Critics' Prize at Cannes. She co-directed and edited the groundbreaking documentary features SONG OF FREEDOM and WORDS OF FREEDOM.
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