Nan Goldin, the photographer who confronted the Sackler family’s pharmaceutical empire for its role in the opioid crisis in the United States
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” directed by Laura Poitras, caused a stir in 2022 when it became the second documentary in history to win the prestigious Golden Lion at the Film Festival. from Venice.
It is a film that combines art and politics, and explains how a campaign led by photographer Nan Goldin led the world’s leading museums and galleries to break their ties with the Sackler family, due to its link to the opioid drug OxyContin.
Poitras, who won a best documentary Oscar in 2014 for “Citizenfour,” about former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, thanked the Venice Film Festival jury at the time for “acknowledging that documentary is cinema.”
Speaking more generally about his work, Poitras has said: “I make films about political issues that concern me, but I want them to work as films. I’m passionate about film and every time a documentary is successful, it’s a success for all of us who make them.” “.
The film is now up for the best documentary Oscar and is also believed to become the first non-fiction film to earn a best picture Academy Award nomination.
The documentary tells the story of how Goldin and the organization Pain (Intervention Now for Prescription Drug Addiction) carried out a direct action campaign in the world’s most famous art galleries. in protest of his ties to the Sacklers.
Museums such as the V&A (Victoria and Albert) and the Tate in London, and the Louvre in Paris severed their connections with the family.
The company owned by the Sacklers, Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, reached an agreement in 2022 with several states in the United States. for his role in the opioid crisis in that country.
Millions of Americans have become addicted to opioid pain relievers such as fentanyl and OxyContin, while nearly half a million deaths were attributed to overdoses of those drugs between 1999 and 2019.
The story was also made into an Emmy Award-winning TV series. dopesick, Starring Michael Keaton.
But what has led to publications like The Hollywood Reporter Y Variety to qualify Poitras’ film as “exquisite” and “heartbreaking” is the way the director he wove Goldin’s own story into the narrative.
The 68-year-old photographer was addicted to OxyContin at one point, but is best known for her groundbreaking artistic career, which includes being the first to curated a collective exhibition on the epidemic of AIDS, called “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” (Witnesses: Against our disappearance) in 1989.
“I started doing interviews with Nan for the documentary and was so moved by her work and her life that I knew she had to be the heart of the film,” explains Poitras.
“I knew I wanted to weave these portraits together and also show some parallels between what drives her as an artist and the relationship between art and politics. Her work is so close to the heart, but also so political.”
“She created a national controversy in the United States with that exhibition in 1989, she was losing her community and her generation to the AIDS crisis. There is something about Nan that ends up being on the right side of history time and time again. She is stand up for the truth and rejects this notion of the status quo.”
While documentaries like “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s portrayal of singer Amy Winehouse, and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” an investigation of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been successful at the box office, they remain it is very rare for a non-fiction film to beat a feature film in the major categories of film awards.
In 2004, “Fahrenheit 9/11” was the second documentary ever to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but it was not nominated in the Best Picture or Best Documentary categories at the Oscars.
“To me, though, it makes sense that ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ won the Golden Lion at Venice and is being mentioned as a possible best picture nominee,” says film critic and festival programmer Kaleem Aftab. .
“It’s an American story, there’s an important message, as well as an exploration of who Nan Goldin is, and in the United States this story is huge. So I can see why he managed to strike a chord with Julianne Moore, who chaired the jury at the Venice Film Festival this year, and it resonated with audiences in the United States,” he says.
“I agree that having an American theme helps propel you to the awards, but the Oscars are the American Academy Awards.”
Aftab adds, however, that even in the documentary category, the film could face stiff competition from other nonfiction films, such as Daniel Roher’s “Navalny,” another politically charged documentary about Russian opposition leader Alexei. Navalny, and Shaunak Sen’s “All That Breathes,” a cinematic exploration of two brothers’ attempts to protect black kites that fall from the sky into Delhi’s polluted air.
Both are also on the Oscar list for best documentary.
“This year has been incredibly strong for documentaries, and their win reflects how they have been increasingly validated and are now seen in exactly the same way that feature films are,” Aftab explains.
Poitras says his job as a filmmaker is “to hold people accountable: we should celebrate independent antagonistic reporting, and documentary filmmaking is one of those ways to do that.”
However, reflecting on the “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” storyline, Poitras believes that the success of Nan Goldin and Pain’s campaign against the Sackler family name was “limited”.
“In a way, the film is about impunity: no one has faced jail time, been charged, or had to declare bankruptcy, but the family name has been shamed in cultural spaces. That’s kind of successful, but it’s limited.”
“Sackler’s name remains in some public spaces, but fewer and fewer. The Louvre was the first to remove Sackler’s name, the V&A did too, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and these are triumphs that Nan should celebrate,” says Poitras.
“It was a long overdue debate and it only came to light thanks to people who were willing to take risks.”
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