TIFF 2022 | All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras, United States) – TIFF Docs

By Will Sloan

There has been much discourse in recent years about how best to “hold accountable” those whose wealth and privilege insulates them from the traditional levers of justice. The question is key to Laura Poitras’s documentary profile of Nan Goldin, which foregrounds the legendary photographer’s fight against the Sackler family, whose pharmaceutical empire is central to the American opioid crisis. With the realistic assumption that no family with a reported net worth of $14 billion will likely see jail time, Goldin and her activist group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) comes up with one strategy to at least taint the Sackler brand: stage protests at galleries who accept Sackler donations or display the family name. Between protests, Goldin and Co. still always keep one eye on the courts, and the documentary’s emotional high point comes when Poitras shows us a Zoom meeting of a bankruptcy hearing, lingering on the faces of the Sacklers as they hear horror stories of parents whose children overdosed. The Sacklers may never see jail time, but here they are preserved in a documentary by an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. It’s not enough, but it’s the best that’s possible right now.

Poitras (best known for the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour [2014]) moves back and forth between Goldin’s present-day activism and her up-and-down life, from her troubled upbringing to her central presence in the ‘70s/‘80s bohemia of Provincetown and New York. Poitras justifiably places a lot of confidence in Goldin’s photography (dotted with appearances by the icons of the milieu such as Cookie Mueller, John Waters, Vivienne Dick, Jim Jarmusch, and David Wojnarowicz), whose morning-after haziness is rich in ugly beauty, and whose ambient influence can be felt in a thousand Instagram accounts.