• Festivals

Venice 2022: Golden Lion Winner – Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”

The win was rare and certainly unexpected: Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed walked away with the top honor of the 79th Venice Film Festival. Only one documentary won Mostra’s highest award before, Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro Gra in 2013.

The film portrays the 68-year-old New York photographer Nan Goldin as she stages protests against a big pharma clan, the Sackler family, in major New York museums like the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and others. Goldin demands that the Sackler name is taken off the walls of those prestigious art institutions.

The Sacklers are, of course, infamous for singlehandedly causing an opioid epidemic in North America with their very profitable painkiller, OxyContin. They wanted to be known as prominent benefactors in the art world by donating some of their blood money to museums – all while over a million people died from a top seller drug manufactured by their company, Purdue Pharma.

Nan Goldin, a trailblazing photographer, turned her art of transgression against the Sacklers. Director Laura Poitras was there to capture it all on film, interspersing the public protests with Goldin’s childhood, adolescence, and career highlights.

The strength of the film lies in its protagonist’s pain: Goldin is not merely an activist hellbent on speaking out against a crime. She knows the pain full well, given that she had been prescribed OxyContin, became addicted to it, and finally got clean with the help of a replacement drug. Once recovered, she dedicated herself to holding the Sackler family accountable.

She did so in the same way she portrayed prostitutes and drag queens, the underprivileged and the AIDS afflicted: with an enormous amount of grace and a commitment to the courage that came as a surprise even to herself. The brave artist is, actually, quite shy as a person.

This is what Nan Goldin stated: “All my work has been about stigma, about fighting stigma since the beginning, starting with different forms of sexuality and gender choices in the early seventies, about relationships and the difficulty in maintaining relationships between men and women and then onto the AIDS crisis. Then, through the years, mental illness, hospitalization, and self-harm. And then, of course, people who use drugs and the opioid crisis. These are all stigmas that my work is about. I just think the wrong things are kept secret.”


Adds Laura Poitras: “Unfortunately, in American society, it’s staggering that we’ve had these sorts of waves of epidemics of crisis and the complete failure of the government, or that we have a system where a family like the Sackler family and a company like Purdue Pharma can knowingly promote a drug that they knew to be addictive and to do that with the most egregious profiteering. Unfortunately, there are these historical parallels and resonances. Nan has said that she’s lost so many people in the eighties. Then, to see this happening again…”

In many ways, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is the documentary companion piece to Barry Levinson’s Golden Globe-nominated TV limited series Dopesick, for which leading actor Michael Keaton won a Golden Globe.

Laura Poitras, the Oscar winner in 2015 for Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden, got the most unanimously brilliant reviews of the festival for All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. This win in Venice makes her most recent work a sure contender for next year’s documentary Oscar.