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New Directors/New Films ’10 | “The Oath” Director Laura Poitras On Her Portrait of Post-9/11 U.S

New Directors/New Films '10 | “The Oath” Director Laura Poitras On Her Portrait of Post-9/11 U.S

Filmed over a two-year period, The Oath interweaves the stories of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard (now driving a cab in Yemen), and Salim Hamdan, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with war crimes. Filmmaker Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country, ND/NF 2006) takes us deep inside the world of Al Qaeda, Guantanamo, and U.S. interrogation methods through a dramatic structure filled with plot reversals, betrayals, and never-before-seen intelligence documents.
The second in a planned trilogy on America post–9/11, The Oath is an intricately constructed work that keeps the viewer off balance and works on several levels. Shading the complexities of her subjects in the manner of great novelists, Poitras delivers an intimate portrait that precludes easy conclusions as it questions the methods of America’s war on terror with uncommon eloquence. [Synopsis courtesy of New Directors/New Films]

“The Oath”
Director: Laura Poitras
Executive Producer: Sally Jo Fifer, David Menschel
Producer: Laura Poitras
Composer: Osvaldo Golijov
Cinematographer: Kirsten Johnson, Laura Poitras
Editor: Jonathan Oppenheim
Coproducers: Jonathan Oppenheim, Nasser Arrabyee, Aliza Kaplan
90 minutes

Director Laura Poitras on becoming a filmmaker…

I was working as a chef in San Francisco and I took a Super-8 film class at the SF Art Institute and I got hooked. 

Poitras on how the project came about and making the film…

The idea was “prompted” by going to Yemen and finding myself in a room across from Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard.  Jetlagged and not looking to make a documentary about Al Qaeda, I knew pretty instantly I was about to make a movie about Al Qaeda.  But I resisted the idea even as I pursued it. 

Director Laura Poitras. Photo courtesy of New Directors/New Films.

Editor/co-producer Jonathan Oppenheim and I wanted to create a psychological portrait with twists and turns that take the viewer on a journey that makes you question what you know and feel – in much the same way I experienced Abu Jandal in person.  One minute I thought I knew him, the next I didn’t.  We used the moving taxicab as a visual space to explore his shifting character.  Hamdan’s story is more linear, but also challenging because he is absent.  DP Kirsten Johnson witnessed his trial, but she couldn’t film in the courtroom, so she had to translate that experience into her landscapes of Guantanamo.   

Poitras on what a NYC audience should expect…

Everything in the film leads back to 9/11, so I expect showing it in NYC will be very emotional.

and on her inspirations…

Influences during production were Don DeLillo’s “Libra,” and “Underworld,” while editing, the Dardenne brothers’ “The Promise,” and “The Son.”

Poitras on future projects in the pipeline…

The next film will be set in the U.S. I’m researching doing something on the 9/11 trails, but of course their status is uncertain.  I’m also interested in doing something on domestic surveillance.

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