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Laura Poitras: "Press Freedom Cannot Be Taken for Granted in the U.K."

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 12, 2014 at 3:06PM

The Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary filmmaker was scheduled to accept an award at Sheffield Doc/Fest, but declined because "the UK is not safe for me right now."
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Laura Poitras

This year, Sheffield Doc/Fest gave its Inspiration Award to filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras for "raising deeply moral questions that demand attention simply because of her telling." Poitras, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for her work on the Edward Snowden leak, was invited to accept the award in person today, but declined, citing concerns for her safety, and sent the following statement, which was read by by Hot Docs' Charlotte Cook, who provided a copy to Criticwire.


Thank you to Hussain and Sheffield for this tremendous honor, thank you Charlotte for accepting this on my behalf, and to Cara for her moving words.

Hussain asked me to select a film that inspires me.  I chose "Man on Wire" because it brings together the best of what documentary can reveal: un-imaginable human courage and artistic beauty. 

I am deeply sad I can’t be here to accept this award in person. It is not that I don’t want to be with you, or that I have a conflict, but rather that traveling to the UK is not safe for me right now because of my reporting on GCHQ and NSA. The detention of David Miranda at Heathrow under terrorism laws, and the destruction of source material at the Guardian, sends a message that press freedom cannot be taken for granted in the UK. 

In the last year I've reflected on how fortunate I am to be a part of the documentary community. Making films is a long and often lonely journey. Doing this work with the knowledge there is a community of people ready to give support, solidarity, and provide creative inspiration makes the journey not only less lonely, but literally possible.    

I cannot accept this award without acknowledging the people who have opened their lives to me, and have allowed my camera to document. They are the inspiration for my work, so this award is for them. I’ve had the unique privilege to document individuals who have put their lives on the line for what they believe in .

At no time have I felt this more profoundly than the film I'm now editing. The topic is surveillance and the "Five Eyes," but the real story is human courage. 

So this award is for William Binney, who was raided by the FBI for exposing NSA illegality, Julian Assange, who lives in an embassy for daring to publish the causalities of war, Glenn Greenwald who reminds us that journalism is about holding power accountable, Sarah Harrison who can’t return home because she secured asylum for Edward Snowden, Jacob Appelbaum who risks his safety to informs others about the dangers of the surveillance, and Edward Snowden who sacrificed everything so that we can know what our government is doing.

Thank you.


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