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#TIFF22 Review: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (TIFF Docs)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

Nan Goldin is an artist and photographer who has set her sights on holding Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family to account for creating and pushing the drug OxyContin, and fuelling the opioid crisis ravaging America. Goldin’s story’s is told in the poetically titled documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, with director Laura Poitras (the fearless filmmaker behind Citizenfour) weaving together thrilling footage of Goldin’s art protests in the wings of museums bearing the Sackler name, with an engaging biography of her life and career told through a selection of images from her body of work.

Through her activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which she founded after battling her own addiction to the painkillers, Goldin is determined to expose the Sackler family’s role in creating the opioid crisis and continuing to profit off of it. The family has positioned themselves as philanthropists by donating money and lending their name to museums, including ones displaying Goldin’s work. It’s the naming rights that Goldin is protesting when she stages “die-ins” at museums like The Met, as captured in the documentary’s thrillingly on-the-fly opening scene, that include unfurling banners and dropping leaflets and empty pill bottles before lying down on the ground.

Through interviews with Goldin and archival footage, Poitras takes us back in time to show how Goldin was at the forefront of New York’s underground art scene in the 1970s and ’80s, including her radical and controversial photo collection The Ballad of Sexual Dependency that made waves when it was first published. Poitras explores Goldin’s close connections to the queer community, and how government inaction on the AIDS epidemic ties into what is happening now in regards to the opioid crisis, with P.A.I.N.’s demonstrations being inspired by those of the gay activist group ACT UP.

It’s a testament to both the filmmaking and Goldin as a subject that the two halves of All the Beauty and the Bloodshed are nearly equally compelling, with Poitras doing an excellent job of weaving the different story threads together into a single compelling narrative. The emotional centre of the film is the story of Goldin’s older sister Barbara, who was institutionalized and died by suicide, with the artist unpacking a history of family trauma and how it has influenced her work as both artist and activist.

Right before it screened at TIFF, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed was announced as the winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at Venice, making it only the second documentary to be awarded that festival’s top prize (following Sacro GRA in 2013). After seeing the film, it’s easy to see why it won. This is a powerful documentary that easily ranks among the best of the year.

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