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All The Beauty and The Bloodshed | Programme Notes

Updated: May 10, 2023

Director: Laura Poitras

Run Time: 122 minutes

Release date: 27th January 2023

I think this story is an important story, not just for me, but for society.

 – Nan Goldin. 

Renowned photographer Nan Goldin and her advocacy group P.A.I.N* stage a die-in at the Metropolitan Museum of art—where art and a corporation-made epidemic clash in the Sackler Wing of the museum. 

While based in New York, P.A.I.N’s protests and activist interventions are held all over the world with the goal to stop museums from accepting donations from the Sackler family. Closer to home Tate, British Museum, the formerly-named Serpentine Sackler Gallery (now called the Serpentine North Gallery, as a direct result of Goldin and P.A.I.N’s activism)’ are a number of the cultural venues and organisations which have received sizable donations from the Sackler family. 

Once hailed in the art world for their charitable donations and thanked for their generosity with museum and gallery wings named after them—the Sackler family were also the owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals and responsible for the first (and continued) wave of the US opioid epidemic in the 1990s. Having made a fortune pushing addictive OxyContin as safe pain management the Sackler family’s so called philanthropy is—thanks to P.A.I.N’s activism finally recognised as an attempt to charity wash the unfathomable profit made and for the public to associate the Sackler name with art and culture instead of addiction and overdoses. 

A clear distinction is to be made—P.A.I.N, like Nan, are not anti-opioid but they are anti-big pharma. This is not the first time Nan has sought to understand the harm of conformity and to speak up against the hauntings of stigma. In this case, those whose pain and dependency are used as pawns in the big-pharma profit machine. The process of documenting the protests and mission of P.A.I.N had already begun when American documentary film director and producer Laura Poitras volunteered to help Nan with telling the story. 

Winning Venice Film Festival’s equivalent of Best Picture, the Golden Lion at the 2022 festival, made the film only the second documentary to take the top prize in the event’s 90-year history. All The Beauty And The Bloodshed is now nominated for a BAFTA Best Documentary and in addition to this Poitras has received numerous awards for her work,  including the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film about Edward Snowden,  ‘Citizenfour’, while her first solo credit feature documentary ‘My Country, My Country’ about the Iraq War received a nomination in the same category in 2007. 

We’re treated to archive footage, and intimate conversations—from ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ to ‘Sisters, Saints and Sibyls’ Nan’s legendary, very personal and poignant work serve as chapters in the film and in her fight against injustices. Just how sacred the world which Poitras enters is revealed in the complete autonomy which Nan has of her story; her influence is vast and in addition to the poetic and detailed narration and supply of archive material Nan is credited as a music consultant for the film. 

In making the documentary the agreement between artists was that Nan could speak freely during their conversations, only if she had a say in what material made it to the final version of the film. Poitras put their  conversation on encrypted drives—treating the recordings with the utmost discretion. ** Both Nan and director Laura Poitras are aware of their sway and possibility to influence; and neither turn away from the responsibility of taking on unnecessary evil. At the start of the portrait documentary Nan states: It’s easy to make your life into stories; but it’s harder to sustain real memories—and so begins the collaboration between two contemporary artists where Nan reflects on the painful memories she’s now entrusted Poitras with to share. 

With Nan’s material and while exploring a multitude of branches across art, family, sexuality and addiction, Poitras weaves a focused story of Nan’s life with the failings of governments and corporate America highlighting the intentional and unintentional injustices throughout history which serve as a stark reminder of how closely intertwined art, love, and loss can be. 

Nan’s vast catalogue and lived experience take us through more than one count of corruption in history. While some may trip on how to do the right thing, the activist leads the way in taking down a corporation by building a community and using her influence in the artworld.

All The Beauty and the Bloodshed becomes an exploration not just of the contrast between chastised or misunderstood beauty, and evil—but also of the deep confusion and dumbfoundedness of evil. How do people live with themselves when they cause so much hurt choosing profit over lives? 


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