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Doc Community Responds to Laura Poitras’ Report of Unjust Treatment

Doc Community Responds to Laura Poitras' Report of Unjust Treatment

This weekend, in a post on his popular political blog, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald posted a story about the ways that the Department of Homeland Security has routinely intimidated and violated the fourth amendment rights of documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who is currently at work on the third of her three post-9/11 documentaries (following the Oscar-nominated “My Country, My Country” and the critically acclaimed “The Oath”).  

According to Greenwald, “Poitras is now forced to take extreme steps — ones that hamper her ability to do her work — to ensure that she can engage in her journalism and produce her films without the U.S. Government intruding into everything she is doing. She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices.”

After citing the fact that Poitras had been reluctant to bring up the DHS’ treatment of her in the past, he recounts her last experience with Customs and Border Patrol agents at Newark Airport, in which she was told she could not take notes during her interrogation and was accused of not cooperating with “an investigation.”  

Greenwald concludes, “even for someone in Poitras’ position, this continuous unchecked government invasion is chilling in both senses of the word: it’s intimidating in its own right, and deters journalists and others from challenging government conduct.”

Now, the documentary community is gathering around Poitras.

Cinema Eye, the organization that hosts the annual Cinema Eye Honors documentary film awards, has released the following letter to the Obama administration:

As members of the nonfiction filmmaking community, we want to express our outrage over the ongoing harassment of our colleague Laura Poitras by the US government and the Department of Homeland Security. We call on the Obama administration to investigate this abuse of power and to bring an end to this persistent violation of America’s bedrock principle of a free press.

Laura Poitras is one of America’s most important nonfiction filmmakers, the recipient of the 2011 Cinema Eye Honor for Outstanding Achievement in Direction for her landmark film, The Oath, and the chair of our Filmmaker Advisory Board. She was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar and twice has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her work. Her long list of credits, awards and impeccable credentials would be easy for anyone to verify.

Over the course of the last several years, as Laura has been working to chronicle the post-9/11 world and the effect of American policies here and abroad, she has been repeatedly harassed, detained, interrogated and has had her cameras and computers seized by Homeland Security officials as she attempts to re-enter her home country.

Not once in more than three dozen detentions and interrogations has Homeland Security found anything to justify this chronic abuse of power.

Within the last week, as Laura was returning from a recent trip abroad, she was once again detained. This time, however, she was also threatened with being handcuffed for attempting to take notes during her interrogation.

Nonfiction filmmakers perform a vital role in a democratic society, serving as observers and investigators of the world around us. It is unacceptable for any American nonfiction filmmaker or journalist to be treated in this manner. They must be able to return to their own country without fear of arrest or fear that their work product will be seized, solely because they are investigating or chronicling subject matter that may be sensitive or controversial.

We ask other members of the nonfiction film and journalism communities to protest this affront to a free press and we reiterate our call on the Obama administration to end these draconian and un-American policies once and for all.


Sean Farnel, Andrea Meditch, Esther Robinson, AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell

Cinema Eye Honors Executive Board

Mila Aung-Thwin, R.J. Cutler, Sam Green, Steve James, Ellen Kuras, Audrey Marrs, James Marsh, Morgan Spurlock, Jennifer Venditti

Cinema Eye Honors Filmmaker Advisory Board

Clio Barnard
Joe Berlinger
Michael Collins
Alex Gibney
Davis Guggenheim
Lixin Fan
Alma Har’el
Asif Kapadia
Lise Lense-Møller
Tia Lessin
Kim Longinotto
Jeff Malmberg
Darius Marder
Albert Maysles
Donal Mosher
Michael Palmieri
Louie Psihoyos
Bill Ross
Turner Ross
Chris Shellen
Bruce Sinofsky
Geoffrey Smith
Ricki Stern
Paul Taylor
Marina Zenovich

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Dawn Reel

Laura Poitras has been such a brave and consistent voice and this is so unfair. Many other antiwar, anti-prison, web & print workers and anti-racist workers have been receiving this treatment since 9-11. Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and other human rights organizations need to do more to stop the harassment and U.S. government criminality against journalists and activists; they need to have a section on their websites that lists Americans AND there has to be a link on them where people can post articles like these. Could Indiewire start a section like this, like "Indie Moviemakers Who Need Protection" and maybe do letter writings a few times a year. This is, and has, happening to so many video activists for sooooo long.

Michael Fox

Right there with everyone on this. Happy to sign on to a campaign or whatever else is out there. And what is really bothersome is that it is our tax money (and a lot of it) that is going towards intimidating tactics against citizens and legal residents. There are those who will say that all these efforts are meant to make the country safer. I would like to see the hard data that shows that this has been successful.

Ryan Gielen

Audrey et al- thanks for continuing to shine a light on those who silence dissent. I agree, it's only going to get worse (just wait til 2016 rolls around, a Repub takes office, and we suddenly *must* go to war with Iran!). Happy to sign on, donate, support… If there's a Kickstarter campaign, legal fund, PAC or org supporting Poitras at any point, please post about it… Anything to do until then?


I think I can safely speak for the 98 other filmmakers involved on 99% – the Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film that we sign on as well. At least I do, and I'd be happy to ask the others. According to the interview I conducted today with a journalism whom shall remain unnamed at the moment, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The journalist feels that, especially in light of the passage of the NDAA, we can expect much more of this.

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