Documentary Is Cinema: All the Beauty of the Story

With Laura Poitras’ recent win of the Golden Lion for “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” documentaries reach unprecedented heights and acknowledgments in the filmmaking industry. 


By Julissa Castro-Ruiz / Matthew staff || Edited by Sara Segat

The 79th Venice Film Festival award ceremony being projected to the public outside Palazzo del Cinema. Photo by Julissa Castro-Ruiz.

On Sept. 10, Laura Poitras made history with her documentary, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” becoming the second documentary in the history of the 79th Venice Film Festival to win the Golden Lion for best film. In her speech, Poitras thanks the festival for understanding that documentary is cinema. This historical win has opened a debate about the role documentary plays in the filmmaking industry and the lack of acknowledgment they receive in major awards categories.

Laura Poitras takes us through an intricately arranged storyline of renowned artist and activist, Nan Goldin, as she talks about life, art, and addiction. The documentary’s viewers watched a courageous and ruthless Nan going against the Sackler family, whose company, Purdue Pharma, made OxyContin which played a leading role in the Opioid Crisis. Through slideshows of Nan’s outstanding photography, intimate interviews of her close circle, and footage from her legal battle against the Sackler’s, the viewers can grasp the force that drives Nan and how her art is more than just a reflection of her but the story of those who stood beside her.

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” proved to be more than a documentary but a call for action; Nan Goldin is a resilient artist who risked everything she had in order to stand up for those who are no longer able to. This documentary evokes a reaction from the viewers because of Poitras’ storytelling skills. Poitras has also won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2014 with her film, “Citizenfour,” about Edward Snowden. Both in 2014 and 2022, Poitras demonstrated her attention to detail when telling a story. Laura knows how to guide the narrative, knows where the core of a story is, and who to point the camera at, which is why her work transcends the screen and stirs debate.

Laura Poitras receiving the Leone d’Oro – Miglior Film at the 79th Venice Film Festival.
Photo by Julissa Castro-Ruiz.

In recent years, awards shows like the Oscars have made history by awarding foreign films, female directors, and diverse actors. But in its 80-year history, the Academy has yet to recognize documentaries for Best Picture nominations. Yet documentaries are seeing a surge in popularity. Filmmakers are releasing high-quality documentaries that serve to both educate and entertain. They have become a powerful tool of change and awareness, which reflects what the viewers are interested in as of right now. There has also been a major shift in the awards shows and festivals’ panels of judges. Judges who are more diverse in both age and ethnic background are being selected for the job. This has allowed filmmaking in its many forms and languages to transform the content we consume nowadays. The boom is also the result of the decade-long work of filmmakers, independent broadcasters, and film festivals that have positioned this category in the viewer’s attention.

While documentaries have yet to make it to the Academy Awards’ most high-profile nominations, such as Best Picture, there is still hope that Laura’s historical win will serve as proof of the potential that documentaries have. Beyond a single category, documentaries can take different forms, as Flee demonstrated in the last awards season by positioning itself in three categories: documentary, animation, and foreign film. There is a high demand for documentaries, and with a more open-minded panel of judges, the hopes of taking gold home are closer than ever.