The opioid crisis has long been an overlooked rot in the heart of the U.S., and Laura Poitras’s thunderous documentary tackles it with compassion and innovation.

She takes an oblique approach, focusing not just on the crisis, but on the life of Nan Goldin, the legendary photographer, who has spearheaded the fight for justice with her advocacy group P.A.I.N. We hear how the Sackler family pushed pain medication like OxyContin through direct commissions to doctors, essentially guaranteeing millions of addicted customers regardless of medical need. But we also hear about Nan’s life and work: her joyous photos, her involvement in Act Up protesting the terrible global response to the AIDS crisis, and the tragic suicide of her sister, Barbara.

At first it feels like these two narratives run parallel; a pair of fascinating stories that might have been better served as separate documentaries. But they soon converge in the most subtle and powerful ways, creating a complex argument against the way all kinds of powerful institutions have failed ordinary people.

Just as Nan’s parents banished Barbara for her ‘rebelliousness’ (aka her burgeoning queerness), so too governments ignored AIDS because it was labelled as a gay disease. Just as those governments refused action and denied responsibility, so did the Sacklers, hiding behind lawyers and PR to delay and minimise their final reckoning.

Poitras mostly lets Goldin take the floor, and her voice is a powerful weapon full of rage and eloquence. The archive is extensive, with highlights including the equally ferocious presence of artist David Wojnarowicz as he campaigned for a better response to the AIDS crisis, the disease which finally claimed his life.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is not just a howl of rage against the institutions that ignore the suffering of ordinary people, but a reminder of what has been lost along the way.



CAST: Nan Goldin, David Wojnarowicz, Robert Suarez

DIRECTOR: Laura Poitras

SYNOPSIS: It follows the life of artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty who was greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll.