HCAF22: ‘All The Beauty and The Bloodshed’ Review

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a carefully crafted documentary that highlights the life and activism of an incredible artist and human.

Courtesy of NEON


One of my favorite aspects of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival is the documentaries that they include in their program. Last year Luchadoras was one of my favorite films of that year, and even though it hasn’t been released yet, the film was one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. This year they screened the 2022 Venice International Film Festival’s Golden Lion winner, Lauren Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. As always most of the films are screened at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It is safe to say that not only is All the Beauty and the Bloodshed one of the best documentaries but films in general of last year.

Laura Poitras examines the life and activism of photographer/artist, Nan Goldin. Nan Goldin embarks on a fight against the Sackler family who are at the forefront of the opioid epidemic. The film aims to balance out by discussing Goldin’s life and her fight against the rising death toll of opioids. Poitras includes several of Goldin’s photographic works and archival footage of her life. The documentary tries to show off in several chapters how each part of her life has led to her biggest battle yet against the Sackler Family. Nan Goldin is trying her best to make sure that no museum or art exhibits continue to take money from them. She organizes protests like throwing massive amounts of prescription pill bottles into fountains inside the museums. Poitras also includes archival and present interviews with those who have suffered from the Opioid Epidemic. One of the most chilling scenes is one of Goldin and her protestors having a Zoom meeting with the Sackler family and unloading their experiences and frustrations against them.

For better or for worse, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed lays all of its cards on the table and even if it may not always work to its advantage, the film finds a way to stick with the audience until the credits roll. The film starts really strong as it puts you right into the belly of the beast with the first of many protests orchestrated by Nan Goldin’s Prescription Addiction Intervention Now advocacy group (P.A.I.N.). I enjoyed that we link her life and experiences coherently enough with her activist past and present. Yet, the biggest problem I have with the film is that it began to lose me in the second act. The photographs even though having their important purpose really do find a way of distracting the viewer and ultimately slowing down the pace. By the time we get to that eruptive third act you’re locked right back in, but it feels more like a relief that the film ended more than the catharsis one hopes for during the film. That could also be expected as the fight against the Opioid Epidemic continues even with these major victories. Nevertheless, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is impressive but its structure keeps from becoming greater than it is.

Watch All the Beauty and the Bloodshed in theaters nationwide as it continues its theatrical release.

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