Nan Goldin, “Self portrait with scratched back after sex” (courtesy the artist)

Laura Poitras’s film about photographer Nan Goldin is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed examines Goldin’s personal life and career while following her work with Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), an activist group she founded to fight the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic it largely engineered.

When she founded PAIN in 2017, Goldin had developed an addiction to OxyContin, the opioid produced and sold by the Sackler family’s giant Purdue Pharma (which both knew about and concealed the drug’s addiction risk). PAIN’s advocacy has brought into focus the Sacklers’ “toxic philanthropy,” much of which they poured into the art world. Goldin’s largely successful campaigns have pressured museums to reject Sackler donations and remove the disgraced family’s name from their galleries.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed mixes more contemporary PAIN footage with flashbacks centering Goldin’s personal biography and art. The result is a personal examination of the contradictions and swings of the artist’s life: from painful memories of loved ones lost to AIDS and drug abuse to glimpses of happiness, community, and belonging. As Dan Schindel notes in his review of the documentary for Hyperallergic, Goldin has always been a documentarian herself, a fact that allows the film to feel more like a collaborative memoir than a historical biography. (Goldin had even shot some of her own footage of her work with PAIN).

In September, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, making it the second documentary to ever win the prize. Should the film secure an Oscar on March 12, it would mark Poitras’s second Academy Award win. In 2015, she won Best Documentary for her Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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