Richard Ware Adams


Encounters Through Film


An American Film Portrait of Polish Solidarity
1986. 58 minutes (excerpt 2:54)
Produced, directed, filmed and edited
Consultant: Dr. Elzbieta Matynia, New School for Social Research

Funded through grants and donations to the New York Foundation for the Arts
Available at
© 1986 Richard Ware Adams

Having lived in Communist Poland on a Fulbright in 1964-65 I was struck by what I was hearing from visitors in 1981 about that one shining moment when metalworkers, electricians, publishers, and poets created a thriving civil society within a totalitarian state. Their nationwide self-governing trade union “Solidarity” was unique in the Soviet Bloc….in the world, for that matter. It won the trust and support of virtually all segments of society by providing the only available channel for the local grass-roots initiatives, open debate, and democratic action that ultimately led in 1989 to non-violent systemic change in Poland and triggered the collapse of Communism throughout Eastern Europe.

When the December 1981 crackdown on Solidarity prevented me from filming in Poland, with the help of friends I took advantage of the fact that many Poles were also stranded here like the poet Stanislaw Baranczak and a worker from the Ursus Tractor Factory, who describe how they learned that to protect their own interests they had to fight for the interests of society as a whole. They also speak of profound psychological change − a real revolution of the spirit. Through photos, posters, protest songs, and personal accounts I tried to capture human dimensions of the movement that were obscured by Cold-War rhetoric, and that were not quite like anything ever experienced by Americans.

The New Yorker had this to say about Solidarity following the imposition of martial law in Poland: Solidarity was probably the most nearly perfect instrument for the expression of a people’s will that our times have seen… Though perhaps short-lived, it may have attained the American ideal of being of the people, by the people, and for the people more thoroughly than we ourselves have. “Notes and Comments”, January 1982

A vivid, evocative, powerful documentary.
William Styron

The title has deeper significance than most people initially will realize − but they will do so as they watch.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic & International Studies

In one of the best films on Solidarity I have seen, Adams brilliantly evokes the way a social movement empowered the subjects of an authoritarian state to become active citizens deeply engaged in public life.
Jan T. Gross, Department of History, Princeton University, author of Neighbors

A review by Arthur Unger of the PBS series “The Struggles for Poland” in The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 1988, ended with this:
An ideal companion piece is filmmaker Richard W. Adams’s “Citizens”, a very personal documentary on the human dimensions of the Polish Solidarity period, airing on some PBS stations (check local listings). Its strength lies in areas where “Struggles” is weakest: the sense of individual commitment – that of Solidarity members as well as that of independent filmmakers.

CITIZENS premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987 and was broadcast widely on PBS stations. Festivals included the 1988 Santa Fe Film Expo and the 1989 Vermont World Peace Film Festival. It was aired in Poland nationally on the 10th anniversary of the imposition of martial law, and several times in 2005 by CUNY-TV, with panel discussion, as part of New York City’s celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the birth of Solidarity. It continues to be an effective catalyst for discussion on social movements and civil society.

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