The documentary ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’, which took the top prize of the Venice International Film Festival, the Golden Lion for “Best Film”, follows the struggle of renowned photographer Nan Goldin’s struggle against the Sackler Family of Purdue Pharma, a giant American pharmaceutical company.
How was the film?
It’s not uncommon for documentaries to win the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival, the last time a documentary won a Golden Lion was for ‘Sacro GRA’ in 2013.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ was directed by Laura Poitras, who is best known for her work on ‘Citizenfour’, featuring Edward Snowden.
After ‘Citizenfour,’ Poitras once again focuses on a figure on the fringe who challenged the system – American photographer and social activist Nan Goldin.
Even if her life and work are not well known to most audiences, the film’s content resonates with them.
Nan Goldin’s gentle manner in front of the camera and her courageous and clear account of her life make her the perfect subject for a documentary filmmaker.
The film begins with her recollections of her teenage years: her mother and sister suffering from mental illness, her sister’s tragic suicide due to depression, and her bouncing from one boarding house to another before becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
At the same time, she becomes part of New York’s gay subculture, using her own camera to document the gay movement and the AIDS crisis in America in the 1970s and 80s. Parallel to this story line is another side of Goldin’s career as a social activist.
The Sackler Family is the driving force behind the opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people in Northern America in recent years.
The Sackler Family also invests in the cultural industry, with public institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre, and Harvard University all having Sackler Family-titled galleries.
Poitras has followed and documented Goldin’s protests at these museums since 2018 – exposing how public institutions turn a blind eye to big business infringing on the interests of individuals, a consistent theme for Poitras since ‘Citizenfour’.
Goldin’s protests also have a performance art quality. As a result of her pressure, museums such as the Met withdrew the Sackler Family’s title.
The film’s success is largely due to the material provided by Goldin, who comes forward with an internal confession about how a traumatic past experience influenced her career choices, which allows the film’s two story lines to intersect with each other in a fluid and natural way.
However, due to the nature of the material itself, a significant portion of the film is presented as a slideshow, and the transitions are too one-dimensional, and the choice of scenes and transitions during interviews with the characters are not natural, giving the film a TV movie quality.