All the beauty and the bloodshed ***
by Laura Poitras
American documentary, 1:57
It was almost inevitable that these two would cross paths one day. One, Laura Poitras, is a committed American director who, for several years, has been pursuing critical work on post-September 11 America.
From the American occupation in Iraq to the mass surveillance unveiled by Edward Snowden, via Guantanamo, his trilogy – My Country, my Country (2006), The Oath (2010) and Citizenfour (2014) – denounces the security radicalization of his country, and earned him to be placed on an anti-terrorist watch list by the FBI. The other is a world famous artist photographer, who has made her life on the margins the subject of her work and the source of her activism in favor of the invisible in American society.
Fight against the Sacklers, owners of Purdue Pharma
Having become addicted to opiates a few years ago and having miraculously recovered, Nan Goldin, 69, used her notoriety to fight against Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company responsible with Oxycontin for the opioid crisis in the United States. United and its 500,000 dead. However, the name of the powerful Sackler dynasty, owner of the multinational, is as a generous patron present in museums around the world.
With her collective PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), the photographer has multiplied the punch actions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, at the National Gallery, in London, or at the Louvre, in Paris, to ask the removal of this name affixed to plaques of thanks and to entire wings of these prestigious institutions.
A whistleblower in her own way, Nan Goldin has participated in all stages of raising awareness around this health tragedy, and if her leaders have so far not been worried, she has at least won the battle to the reputation. She continues to campaign tirelessly for risk reduction and better management of overdoses.
It is this fight that Laura Poitras recounts in this very beautiful documentary, which won a well-deserved Golden Lion in Venice. It serves as a common thread for a sensitive portrait of the artist, where his life, his art and his struggles mingle. With the founding element, the suicide of his sister Barbara, placed in a psychiatric hospital for having rebelled against the puritan yoke of the 1950s. An event that has become a family unsaid.
An America of Denial
It is against this “denial” – she utters the word several times – and those of America that the photographer has never ceased to speak out. Exploring the margins very early on, frequenting the underground in Boston, then in New York against a backdrop of sexual liberation, artificial paradises and artistic avant-garde, she exposes all of its intimacy in raw but moving photographs.
Just like the tortured bodies of his friends, victims of AIDS, and true manifestos against a disease that left government authorities indifferent. In her beautiful deep voice, on the images of her works, she unrolls in voiceover the thread of a life entirely devoted to giving life to those whom her country does not want to watch.
The film, admirably constructed, mixes several levels of stories ranging from the intimate to the political and, through the trajectory of this artist, sequenced into chapters each corresponding to a work (The Ballad of Sexual Dependency ; Sisters, Saints and Sibyls ; Witnesses: Against our Vanishing), reveals a whole different side of American history. The fierce fight against the Sacklers then takes on its full meaning. It culminates in a mind-blowing scene of the commercial court hearing, held by videoconference because of Covid-19, where the descendants of the Sackler family listen, with closed faces, to the heartbreaking testimonies of the families. Despite their temporary impunity, Nan Goldin does not give up.
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker
Laura Poitras was born on February 2, 1964, in Boston.
Her first ambition is to become a chef, before training at the Art Institute of San Francisco, where she developed a passion for experimental cinema and directing.
While producing his first documentaries, in 1995 and 1998, she studied sociology and political science.
In 2006, My Country, my Country, on the war in Iraq, is nominated for an Oscar.
In 2014, she participated with the washington post and the Guardian to a journalistic investigation on the establishment of mass surveillance by the NSA (National Security Agency), which won the Pulitzer Prize.
In 2015, Citizenfour, his film on the revelations of Edward Snowden, won the Oscar for Best Documentary.