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Director Laura Poitras Is at the Center of the Biggest Political Story of the Year

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by Melissa Silverstein
August 19, 2013 2:00 PM
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laura poitras

Unless you live under a rock you know that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, political stories this year is the release of classified documents by Edward Snowden about the US government and its gigantic surveillance operation.  I don't make any pretense to understand all the implications of these documents and what it means for all our futures.  But I find it fascinating that Laura Poitras, a female documentary film director, MacArthur recipient and Academy Award nominee, is at the center of the story.

This weekend, The NY Times did a magazine cover story on Poitras and while you might think that Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian is the main reporter on the Snowden work, the story makes clear that she and Greenwald are a team and she is an integral part of getting this story out to the public.  Even before Poitras got involved in this story she was on a watch list (Secondary Security Screening Selection) and was stopped constantly (over 40 times) at airports. The article revealed that she now takes great steps to keep her work safe and has traveling companions carry her laptop and leaves her notebooks in safe deposit boxes.  Things have escalated to a point that now she doesn't feel safe in the US so she has relocated to Berlin to finish her new film which is on the government surveillance programs.

Laura Poitras has been filming the war on terror for years and lived in the green zone in Iraq for some time.  Her films include My Country, My Country for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary.  Other films include The Oath.  (Here's an interview Women and Hollywood did courtesy of Elizabeth Bales Frank with Poitras when The Oath was released.) Her current film about the government surveillance programs will include information that she has learned during the release of the documents from Edward Snowden.  One of the challenges that she revealed in the Times piece is how she will place herself as a character in this story. 

This is an occasion where the observer has become a part of the story.  Her film is sure to be another very important piece of this story.

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