Oscar winner Laura Poitras slams Toronto and Venice for scheduling Hillary Clinton documentaries, accuses festivals of ‘sort of laundering’ of Clinton’s record
Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras sharply criticized the Toronto and Venice Tuesday film festivals for the programming of documentaries linked to the former secretary of state hillary clintonsuggesting that the decision borders on a “whitewashing” of history.
His remarks came to the Toronto Film Festival‘s Doc Conference, a day after Poitras’ new documentary, All the beauty and bloodshed, had its North American premiere in Toronto. The film about artist Nan Goldin and her crusade against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, won the Golden Lion in Venice.
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Poitras attended Venice, as did Clinton, the latter in support of his Apple TV+ docuseries Bold. Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton then made their way to TIFF, where they unveiled In his handsa Clinton-produced documentary that focuses on one of Afghanistan’s few female mayors.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images
“It’s alarming to see some of the most powerful people in the world, like Hillary Clinton, walking down a red carpet in Venice and at TIFF, and saying nothing,” Poitras said. “And, I would say, indulging in some sort of laundering as well. I mean, Hillary Clinton was actively involved in the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. She supported the escalation of the troops.
Poitras pointedly added, “I find it really disturbing that all of this is being forgotten and that we are providing a platform. I mean, documentary is journalism. We stand for facts and hold people accountable. And I don’t understand why there aren’t more questions about what that means… I think we really need to look at what that means for the state of the documentary.
In his hands, directed by Tamana Ayazi and Oscar nominee Marcel Mettelsiefen, is a Netflix title. The streamer is planning an Oscar-qualifying theatrical tour starting Nov. 9; the film will debut on Netflix on November 16.
Poitras said she’s thought “long and hard” about voicing her criticism, saying she doesn’t want to distract from the work of fellow documentarians who premiere films at TIFF. But, referring to Clinton, she said, “I think people in that level of power should be asking some tough questions.”
She framed her criticism in the context of the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the subject of Poitras’ 2016 film. Risk.
“That’s literally the biggest issue facing journalism in the world right now, that’s the US prosecution of Assange for the Espionage Act,” Poitras said. “There is nothing more serious that threatens the First Amendment, not just in this country, but also threatens journalism around the world, because what the American government is doing is trying to extradite him, bring him back, try him under the Espionage for Publication Act, for literally exposing war crimes in the US occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan.
She continued, “The past few years have been terrifying for journalists. First, the Obama administration – it has mobilized the Espionage Act more than it has ever been used, targeting whistleblowers and journalists. And now it’s not just being passed on to whistleblowers and sources under Obama, it’s now being used against a publisher [Assange].”
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Netflix
Poitras also suggested it was hypocritical for Venice and TIFF to simultaneously schedule the Clintons’ work while featuring no bear, the latest film by imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi. She noted, “The US government’s efforts to indict and prosecute Assange are, I would say, no different from the imprisonment of Jafar Pahani in Iran.”
Poitras’ interlocutor for the Doc Conference was Thom Powers, TIFF’s chief documentary programmer, who likely played a key role in choosing In his hands for the festival program. Despite the potential awkwardness involved, Powers urged the filmmaker to articulate her review by saying “Use your voice, Laura.” This was greeted with moving applause.
Deadline has contacted Powers for comment, as well as HiddenLight, the Clintons’ production company. We’ve also reached out to Netflix for comment. If we hear from any of these parties, we’ll update our story.
It should be noted that former President Obama, who appeared in Poitras’ comments, is co-founder with Michelle Obama of Higher Ground Productions, which has a deal with Netflix. The company supported an Oscar-winning documentary American factoryand Oscar-nominated doc screaming camp, who have both played numerous film festivals starting with Sundance. Higher Ground also came aboard Descending, an expected Oscar nominee that premiered in January at Sundance. The prospect of festivals avoiding any documentaries associated with the Obamas seems unlikely.
In his handsmeanwhile, will travel from TIFF to the Camden International Film Festival in Maine.
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