With her nominations for an Oscar, Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy Award, as well as her Peabody and Sundance Film Festival award, it’s clear that Laura Poitras is an exceptional documentary filmmaker. As such, she was chosen to take part in Duke University’s Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker Series to visit campus for two days this fall.
Her stay will culminate in “A Conversation with Laura Poitras,” part of the second iteration of the Visiting Filmmaker Series. The conversation will be hosted by Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a prolific author, interviewer and curator recently tapped as an advisor to the Port Authority about the use of art and architecture in the World Trade Center commemorative site. As Poitras’ films have a particular focus on post-9/11 America from the perspective of the Middle East, the conversation between the two women aims to engage a specific aspect of cultural relevance.
Poitras’ participation with the Visiting Filmmaker Series coincides with her visit to Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts.
“We’re really thrilled that she’s doing the [Visiting Filmmaker series] because it’s an opportunity for [all] students,” Assistant Director of the MFA Program Teka Selman said. “Screenings are fabulous because they give an opportunity to [Duke] students to see Poitras’ work….she’s a phenomenal filmmaker.”
Three of Poitras’ films will be screened at Griffith Theater as part of AMI’s Screen/Society series in the weeks leading up to her discussion with Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel. In accordance with the goals of the Visiting Filmmaker Series, the featured works focus on conflicts of social and political urgency. In Flag Wars (2003), Poitras explores the tension surrounding the gentrification of a community in Columbus, Ohio. It delves into the social conflict between gays and African-Americans in one of the city’s residential neighborhoods. My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010) are the first two parts in a yet-to-be-completed trilogy. In My Country, My Country, we are introduced to Dr. Riyadh, a Sunni doctor and father in Baghdad, who was running for political office during the U.S. occupation following 9/11. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and an Emmy Award, among others. It explores the complexities of the occupation in Iraq, demonstrating Riyadh’s personal life interacting with the military involvement.
In 2010, Poitras released The Oath, the second installment of her trilogy. This documentary adheres to the theme of illuminating different perspectives of 9/11 and its repercussions. In her work, Poitras follows two men: Guantanamo Bay prisoner Salim Hamdan and Yemeni taxi driver Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former body guard. Their stories reveal much about the religious aspect of the War on Terror and gives an alternative view of Guantanamo Bay, the Supreme Court and the FBI.
Poitras’ first-hand experience travelling to and from the Middle East qualifies her to “speak to politics in America this time” and comment on the ever-changing security policies of the past decade, explained Ruth Cody of the Archive for Documentary Arts.
After the screenings of Poitras’ documentaries, the Duke community has the opportunity to hear the artist speak about her process. All three films will show at 7 p.m. at the Griffith Film Theater; Flag Wars will play October 3; My Country, My Country on October 8 and The Oath on October 22. The discussion between Poitras and Diamonstein-Spielvogel will take place at the Nasher Museum of Art on October 24 at 6 p.m.